Commentary

June 1, 2012

Newcomers train from get-go

by Maj. Chistopher Chestnut
56th Maintenance Operations Squadron

I have the great honor and privilege of commanding the 56th Maintenance Operations Squadron, aka Team Roadrunner — “beep beep!”

Over the last 24 years I have learned a thing or two that I usually share with my new squadron teammates at our monthly newcomers’ orientation. Now, these items are my opinion and may not necessarily be correct for everyone and some comments may border on the obvious. My intent is to share some insight with our young Airmen or at the very least, inspire some conversation in the work place.

I started out as an F-16 crew chief in this wing when it was operating out of MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., in the late eighties just prior to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We have come a long way since then.

Let me start by saying that I have the highest respect for our Airmen who volunteer to serve our country in a time of war. They bring many attributes to our service, and I consider them to be both very bright and capable. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to realize they are much more capable than I ever was. This is primarily due to the great strides that have occurred in the way we train our Airmen.

It starts in basic military training; it has been shaped by years of warfare and has become a much more robust experience doing a much better job of preparing our recruits to be expeditionary Airmen. Another example of the great improvement in training is in our F-16 crew chief community. When I went through technical school, we were only permitted to look at an F-16 from afar — I actually graduated without ever touching one and most of my training occurred at the assigned base. Now, via the Mission Ready Airmen program, an F-16 crew chief attends an 18-day common maintenance training course followed by 58 days of school on “cold” F-16s at Sheppard AFB, Texas, followed by 20 days of “hot” F-16 training at Luke AFB.

Let there be no doubt, today’s crew chiefs are much better trained and prepared to go to work when they show up at their first duty assignment. Nonetheless, there are a few things they ought to know as they continue to develop in our U.S. Air Force.

First-term Airmen, you’ve completed technical school – now what? After completing technical school, your number one priority is to get your 5 skill level, journeyman. You will need to qualify on additional tasks at your work center but will also be required to complete your Career Development Course. There are many reasons that you should invest your time and effort into your CDCs. Many units honor high scores with passes — time off for the Airman and the supervisor. Great scores also make exceptional bullets for annual evaluations and awards. You also need to advance to keep your job — on a rare occasion a person may be granted a second opportunity to test or cross train but most are dismissed from the Air Force for failure to progress.

In other good news, most career fields award college credit toward a Community College of the Air Force degree for a 5 skill level. To get more information about where you stand, schedule an appointment with the education office.

Another significant note is most senior airmen will test for staff sergeant sooner than they think and will be testing on the same material. Putting it another way, studying hard will help establish a good baseline for future promotion testing. Don’t throw your books away when you’re done.

Once you pass the hurdle of acquiring your 5 skill level, it might be time to consider going to school and getting a CCAF degree. Without taking a class, you may have already earned a year’s worth of college credit from the combination of technical school, 5 skill level, professional military education such as Airman Leadership School and continuation training. Despite this, some Airmen do not understand that earning a degree is in their best interest, whether they stay in or get out of the service. If you are able to complete your CCAF degree before you get out it will more than likely open doors and act as a stepping stone to even greater achievements. If you decide to stay in the Air Force a CCAF degree is practically a requirement to be promoted from master sergeant to senior master sergeant.

At this point in the game, the reality is that if you don’t have a CCAF degree you will not be promoted and will probably not be selected for the best job opportunities. The best career opportunities go to those who consistently perform in an outstanding fashion, have completed their PME and have a CCAF degree.

Let us take a moment and talk about volunteerism. Why volunteer? Volunteer because it helps you, the Air Force, and the community. For the purpose of this article I will focus on how volunteering helps you grow professionally. Not only is it a great opportunity to serve others and build on the Air Force’s relationship with the community, but it’s also an opportunity to build leadership and management skills. For most new Airmen I recommend they start by volunteering to help, but with time and experience, I encourage them to take on more challenging leadership and managerial roles. This is a great opportunity to practice leadership and management in preparation for increased responsibility in the Air Force. Let’s face it, the Air Force is a competitive environment, and your volunteerism will demonstrate your willingness to learn and take on new challenges, not to mention that it will help fill your annual evaluation and award documents. Remember that participating as a volunteer is good, but you will learn more through leading and managing.

In closing, what I share with my new Team Roadrunner warriors is that I expect them to do the little things right and perform in an outstanding fashion every day. They are well trained and can contribute to the mission but must continue to develop themselves for the long run — service is a journey of self-improvement. Attack and accomplish your upgrade training, get a CCAF degree and look for volunteer growth opportunities. Roadrunners … Catch us if you can!




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