Thursday, February 28, 2013

COMMENTARY>>The Air Force will make you better ... if you let it

By Lt. Col. Kelly Kirby
19th Operations Group

Why are you reading this article? Why did you pick up this paper and decide to spend your valuable time on this commentary? Just the fact that you read the paper puts you into a separate class of Airmen. According to, only 43 percent of U.S. adults read the newspaper each day and over two-thirds of those are over the age of 55. So, chances are, my target audience of younger U.S.A.F. Airmen is not even reading this. But just in case you want to improve your perspective on the Air Force, or influence an Airman to make themselves better, please read on.

Chances are you entered the Air Force because you were drawn to the service for several reasons, including the innovative reputation and the technological background of the Air Force. Maybe you are like me, and just wanted to fly airplanes while taking advantage of self-improvement options like scholarships or the GI bill. Many of us entered the Air Force because we wanted to serve, and we needed the boost to accomplish greater things in our lives--we started from meager backgrounds. If it were not for the Air Force, I would not have been able to afford college and would most likely be back in Iowa, working in a corn field. I took advantage of the Air Force’s good will, and there are even more opportunities within the Air Force for self-improvement that most Airmen overlook each day. If you open your perspective to the scope of what this institution has to offer, you will see there is a lot out there, every single day.

I just finished a command tour where I worked with 550 of the greatest maintenance professionals I have ever known, and they taught me a lot – every day. My command of the 19th Equipment Maintenance Squadron was the best assignment of my career, and it made me a better Airman, because I let it make me better. As the commander of a maintenance squadron, I was in a unique and challenging position as a C-130 career-long navigator, and had to rely on the senior non-commissioned officers and officers to teach me the art of maintenance from their perspective. Because I was open to learning a new skill set from a different side of the Air Force, I became a well-rounded Airman. That assignment made me better because I allowed the Air Force to shape my perspective, and I put my faith in the leaders who surrounded me. The Air Force is full of excellent leaders and role models, and if you are open to change, you can learn from each one of them.

There are other ways that the Air Force can make you better besides advancing your education through CCAF or through PME, but you have to be open to them. The most important thing is that you remain open to change, and avoid the thought that you already know everything. If you keep the attitude that every single day the Air Force can teach you something, you will continue to grow and improve as an Airman and as a leader. When you think you know it all, and start reading your own headlines, you are on a path to apathy and the future will continue to cause you greater and greater challenges. Every single day I can observe great leaders around me, and pick up tools from them, because I take the time to learn and observe.

I hope that even our youngest Airman realizes that they can become anything they want within the Air Force, or after the Air Force, as long as they continue to grow and learn from those around them. This can be as simple as watching an NCO deal with a crisis on the flight line during the morning launches or watching a supervisor calm a heated situation in the office. The Air Force is full of innovative leaders who have fostered our reputation in the joint arena as Airmen – we get the job done with new and innovative ideas and methods. Commanders across the combat zone, from the Army, Navy, and Marines look for Airmen on their installations to find new solutions. As an Airman, you need to develop that skill set, that ability to find new and innovative solutions, and the best way to do that is by observing those around you who already possess the skills. Watch how they solve problems, and put those tools in your kit, so you will be ready to continue our legacy. We make ourselves better every day so that we can make our service more capable of answering our nation’s call. Are you doing your part? If not, do you think you know it all?

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