Commentary

May 11, 2012

How it works in the real Air Force

Commentary by Master Sgt. Chris Stagner
Robert Gaylor NCO Academy

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) — Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy recently issued a call to arms for all enlisted Airmen in his perspective paper: “Now is the time for bold leadership.”

In this message, he states it is up to the enlisted force to lead with integrity and return stability to the enlisted performance report system. Specifically, he said of his message sent to command chiefs, functional managers, and major command commanders and vice commanders, “the theme of the message was that too much arbitrary guidance could prove to be counterproductive. As supervisors, the more leverage we have to deal with situations on a case-by-case basis, the better.”

The response to this message and the resulting discussions has been phenomenal — and varied. Opinions range from enthusiastically supportive to continued concern about the system.

I’m currently attending the Robert Gaylor NCO Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the theories behind leadership are something we discuss every day. Based on what we’re being taught here, I find it hard to understand the confusion about the chief’s message.

We’re taught to communicate with our Airmen. We’re taught to provide constant feedback to our Airmen. We’re taught to establish standards for our Airmen and, more importantly, hold them to the standards we establish. We’re taught to counsel those same Airmen if they fail to meet our standards.

So ponder me this: If we are all doing this every day, if we’re actively leading our Airmen versus passively leaving them to do their jobs, if we’re training our Airmen and are involved; how can writing an EPR with integrity be so difficult? Why do we constantly hear, “That’s not how it’s done in the real Air Force?”

I learned early in my career not to expect a 5 EPR. My second EPR, as a matter of fact, was a 2 referral. As an entitled Airman, I was furious with the rating. How could I warrant a 2 referral with the amount of effort I put into the job every day? How could my supervisor ruin my career? She explained to me very simply that she’d established standards, and I’d failed to meet them. It took years and a number of supervisory experiences of my own before I understood what she meant: No one deserves a rating; we all earn our ratings.

NCO academy lesson plans say the same thing: establish standards, hold subordinates accountable to those standards, provide feedback constantly and rate fairly. If all of us are being taught the same way, why aren’t we executing those simple expectations in “the real Air Force”?

Chief Master Sgt. Craig Howell is the commandant of the Robert Gaylor NCOA. He’s spent 15 years involved in professional military education and eight years as a first sergeant. He’s also spent a great deal of time asking himself this same question.

“Having dissected it (the enlisted evaluation system) over the last 28 years, our EES is probably the most perfect I’ve seen,” he said. “However, it is misunderstanding, misuse, and sometimes abuse and fear of supervisors to do the right thing that makes the system appear broken.”

During our discussions in class about this very topic, many of my classmates have stated they’ve given 5 ratings because they didn’t have the paperwork to justify a 4 or a 3. Those statements perfectly support Howell’s statement.

Why would you need paperwork to justify a 4 EPR? A 4 is an excellent rating. You don’t need a letter of counseling to receive a 4 on your EPR. You need to come to work, do an excellent job, be involved in your community and pursue your education.

Did you read what I just wrote?

In order to earn a 4 on your EPR, you need to come to work, do an excellent job, be involved in your community and pursue your education. That is what qualifies you as a 4 — being excellent.

It’s been said that leaders refuse to allow less than a 5 (which is a topic for another day since no one can tell you how to rate your Airmen) because it reflects negatively on leadership.

Comic book hero Thor says, “I say thee nay.” I tend to agree with him on this one. So does Howell.

“It’s not a reflection on leadership when a follower is less than perfect,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a battle of will instead of a battle of skill. No one is perfect all of the time.”

So how do we fix this? How do we move from this “broken” system into a fixed one? Do we as enlisted leaders require someone else to tell us how to do our jobs and lead our troops? Do we need a quota system to tell us how many of our Airmen are allowed to shine? Do we ask for a switch back from EPRs to APRs? A mulligan, perhaps?

No.

In order to fix this system, all we have to do is what we’re taught in PME. All we have to do is follow Roy’s direction and be bold, confident leaders who take care of our Airmen.

If that’s not how it’s done in “the real Air Force,” then it is up to us to have the integrity to make it so.

No one can do that but us.




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