Commentary

February 28, 2014

Changing times challenge leadership

Senior Master Sgt. LEROY RIDGEL
56th Logistics Readiness Squadron

Over the next several months our leadership’s prowess will be tested. On Dec. 11, 2013, Air Force senior leaders announced the rollout of several programs that may reduce our force by as much as 25,000 over the next five years.

Unfortunately, several of our fellow Airmen will be saluted for their years of faithful service and respectfully asked to separate or retire from our Air Force. This transition will be easy for some, but much more difficult for others.

Our responsibilities as NCOs and senior NCOs will be not only to read and understand these programs, but to leverage our skills to guide subordinates through these seemingly turbulent times. Change is inevitable and in order to be credible, well-respected leaders, we must assume the role as agents to help facilitate this transformation that has been levied upon us all.

It’s been said time and again the only constant in the military is change. There is no truer depiction of those words than our current operating environment. As leaders we must not only prepare ourselves for this change, but translate and articulate its impact in a way that is easily understood by our younger Airmen.

Now more than ever, change is becoming the norm, and we must be prepared for the uncertainty that pervades the process.

In a book titled, “Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” American management consultant and author Peter Drucker, in what could have been a foreshadowing of current events, stated, “Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes — it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.”

The U.S. Air Force became a separate military service Sept. 18, 1947, with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947. This new service not only exploited the flexibility and versatility of airpower, but it spawned a lineage of innovative, courageous and resilient Airmen who have led our Air Force through decades of change. The position of chief master sergeant of the Air Force was favored by some and frowned upon by others. The idea of creating such a powerful position within the enlisted corps was initially rejected by Air Force senior leadership. They believed it would undermine the already established chain of command.

But in April of 1966, Gen. John McConnell named Chief Master Sgt. Paul Airey as the first chief master sergeant of the Air Force. Faced with many challenges, including defining the roles and responsibilities of this new position and battling record low re-enlistment rates, Airey had to lead the enlisted force through this historic change. Almost 48 years later, 16 others have served in this position and have continued to guide our force through some of the most dramatic changes in Air Force history.

Over the next several months, we will be faced with many challenges that will put our leadership skills to the test. We will be tasked with engaging in unfiltered, candid conversations with our subordinates.

We’ll also be providing them a realistic assessment of their performance and assisting them with making decisions that will affect them, their families and the overall Air Force mission. The true test will not only be the amount of force management information we’re able to absorb and regurgitate, but how well we provide guidance and support to those who are unfortunately asked to separate. Change is inevitable and as enlisted leaders, we must never lose sight of our critical roles in this ever-evolving environment.




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