Twelve Air Force senior leaders leveraged their candor and experience to share insight and answer questions regarding the service as it enters a new era of leadership.
The panelists assembled on the final day of the 2012 Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 19, 2012.
Led by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the panel also featured Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, commander of Air Force Materiel Command; Gen. Edward Rice, commander of Air Education and Training Command; and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy.
“These folks lead our airmen all over the world and they do a phenomenal job of it,” Welsh said, noting their challenge to ensure communication, leadership and training does not wane as the Air Force transitions into a smaller, leaner force.
Asked about the qualities of effective leadership, Welsh said to rely on instinct.
“Trust your gut,” he said. “If you’re wondering whether you should do something or not, the answer is probably no … and if your people don’t believe you care, you won’t get anywhere. If it’s never fun, you’re doing something wrong.”
While morale has a place in the mission, the general added that performance is ultimately the bottom line.
Diversity is also a critical component of Air Force culture, as Wolfenbarger described.
“It has really been a journey for us in the Air Force to embrace diversity, and I maintain that I am a product of how much importance our service has placed on … respecting and encouraging contributions from all walks of life,” she said.
The general recalled the early years of her Air Force career.
“There was still an executive order on the books that allowed us to separate a woman who became pregnant,” Wolfenbarger recounted. “In the last three-plus decades, we certainly have made great progress from that point in time.”
From a training perspective, Rice discussed how personnel strategies in his command can be used across the force.
Goals include ongoing training, education, recruiting and retention of Airmen in a resource-constrained environment, Rice said, emphasizing developing a greater understanding of demands being put on individual Airmen.
“Our ability to deliver Airmen to the war fighter is strong today,” Rice said. “The leadership team of air education and training command is focused a lot on how we continue to make that an accurate statement in the years ahead.”
An area of focus for the chief master sergeant of the Air Force is motivation as the wartime missions begin to stabilize.
“The majority of our Airmen today that serve have come in after 9/11,” Roy said, acknowledging the challenge of maintaining an engaged force. “When (airmen) don’t have that stimulant of deploying multiple times … we’re going to be in danger. Airmen’s time is valuable.”
Still, the chief noted, relationship bonds continue to strengthen among families, communities, supervisors and commanders of all levels.
In addition to Welsh, Roy, Wolfenbarger and Rice, panelists were Gen. Raymond Johns, commander of Air Mobility Command; Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command; Gen. Herbert Carlisle, commander of Pacific Air Forces Command; Gen. William Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command; Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command; Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command; Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command; Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, director of Air National Guard; and Lt. Gen. James Jackson, chief of Air Force Reserve.