Bagram Air Base August 2006 - I arrived in country after 4 days of continuous travel including a brief stay at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. After dropping our bags off at the “hooch”, our leadership team all rallied up to meet with the outgoing commander whom proceeded to provide us with a two hour PowerPoint briefing on all the great accomplishments that had been made there during their deployment. While this was a noteworthy briefing, I believe the outgoing commander failed to properly analyze his audience and realize that even had they presented the greatest briefing on earth it would have had little impact due to our physical state at the time.
In many ways understanding and taking care of your people became the theme of this assignment. During that deployment I had two individuals that had serious back home emergencies, one of which was my best NCO whom informed me one day that his mother had just tried to commit suicide. As Air Force officers we are often well training to deal with the technical aspects of the job but how do you train to handle the indiscriminate and often random tragedies that befall your Airmen outside of the job? It is something that is difficult to teach.
First, I suggest you study and know your people. Getting to know your people will build trust and will aide you in recognizing issues early and will often lead your Airmen to feel comfortable enough to bring you their issues. Second, unlike the outgoing commander, don’t have a canned briefing or response regardless of the circumstances of the person or situation; they will spot the inauthenticity of this a mile away and reject it. Finally, rely on your leadership team. Every unit has a First Sergeant; in both situations I found myself in, the First Sergeant was instrumental in addressing the needs of my Airmen.
You may think these are great lessons for application on active duty but have little impact here as a cadet. You’d be wrong. There are already situations here where you can be that Wingman to a fellow cadet. Get to know your fellow cadets and look for those opportunities to lend a hand or an ear. Start practicing this now and you will go far as an Air Force officer and a leader.
by Major Chad Richardson