By Master Sgt. Margarita Overton
19th Airlift Wing Command Chief
Many of our news headlines today are littered with words like “challenging,” difficult” and “problematic” indicating that the future will bring tough decisions and tough times. While these words are meant to manage expectations of the future budgetary picture, as Airmen, these same words can deter us from our overall mission and potentially lead us down the road of fear, uncertainty and doubt. This “real talk” from media outlets, politicians and service chiefs reminds us of the very real challenges that could await our Air Force in the very-near future, but even in the face of adversity, I encourage you to keep it R.E.A.L.
Take the first step with “R”— remember our history and where we came from as an Air Force. Throughout our brief but rich history, every generation of Airmen has faced and overcome challenges. History shows sharp fluctuations in personnel and resources through various wars and conflicts. Steep demobilization occurred after World War I, and in the 20 year period between the two world wars, our air branch was stagnated while our leaders faced the task of reorganization, while dealing with inter-service rivalries, but overcame these challenges on the way to establishing the Air Force as a separate branch of service.
During World War II heroic service members of the Army Air Corps showed their grit and determination, dominating the skies over both Germany and Japan. After air power made it possible for the Allies to claim total victory over the Axis powers, massive demobilization occurred again.
This trend of ramp-up/ramp-down has occurred for all of the services throughout our Nation’s history, but how have service members responded in the face of this adversity? They’ve dominated the skies and were resilient, as airpower continued and continues to prevail through the Cold War, Dessert Storm and Dessert Shield, the Global War on Terrorism, to today as we conduct operations in multiple theaters.
Budgetary actions and sequestration can cause uncertainty, but remember, our proud heritage and legacy remains — the USAF, propelled by you, is the most respected and powerful air, space and cyberspace force in the entire world.
Our next step is “E” — encouraging our Airmen and ourselves.
To encourage means to inspire with hope, courage or confidence. We can do this regardless of whether we are in a leadership position or not. Positive attitudes are contagious. Recently I got hooked on the show “the Biggest Loser,” because it’s a show about real people striving to make positive behavioral changes for better health. One of the trainers, Jillian Michaels made a statement that really illustrates the point of attitude. She said, “You can’t change circumstances; you have no control over all the events that occur in life…you can only change yourself and your response to those events or circumstances.” What we tell ourselves truly matters.
Of course encouragement, like everything else, should be R.E.A.L. Hard-truths shouldn’t be honey-coated, and as an Air Force we could be set to face some hard time, but a R.E.A.L. leader, supervisor or Airman (civilian or military) will encourage their peers and friends during hard times. The key is to work together, with camaraderie, empathy and support our force can persevere through anything.
Pointing out the bright spots is a way to spread encouragement to those around us and is also linked to the next step which is “A”—act within our circle of influence.
This means being proactive, and according to author Stephen Covey, is one of seven habits of highly effective people. Too many times people try to focus on things they can’t do anything about. Trying to solve world hunger is out of our control, but participating in the Feed the Homeless project in our community is in our control. Our Nation’s debt problem is definitely out of our control, but, as individuals, we can impact our circle of influence by looking for efficiencies within our work center, by conducting risk analysis on the things we can or cannot support, and by keeping “eyes-on” the people around us to notice any behavior changes and step in if you’re concerned. Looming budgetary actions could have consequences for our people, and it’s important for them to be supported by their fellow service members.
Lastly, we can “L”—lean forward and keep moving, knowing that tough times won’t last forever.
We can choose to remain frozen in the face of challenges or see each challenge as an opportunity to overcome. We do not know what changes the future will bring. We know certain benefits and programs are under scrutiny for long-term sustainment. The recent suspension of 100 percent tuition assistance is a good example. Lean forward by working to apply for the numerous benefits that are out there to help you complete your education. Lean forward by ensuring you’re creating and living by a budget that will support your future goals. Lean forward by being the best Airman you can be.
I am convinced our nation’s leaders have confidence in us as Airmen. They know we are the best in the world that we step up to meet any challenge, that we overcome any obstacle and that we defeat the enemy. Our nation knows we can continue to do so as long as we are given adequate resources. Furthermore, I am confident in you all as Airmen. Without fail you, the men and women of Little Rock AFB, deliver in the daily execution of one of the most important missions our country has. Last week, Colonel Robinson, 19th Airlift Wing commander, expressed his commitment as your commander and fellow Airman, to carrying out our mission while dealing with the chaos and inefficiency of budgetary uncertainty. Be assured, your leadership has your back and we will keep it R.E.A.L. I know we will get through these challenging times together ahead and come out stronger.