BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — While I’ve decided to live a childfree lifestyle, the Air Force, in its infinite wisdom, saw the need to issue me two kids. They are both straight out of technical training and brand new to the Air Force — and one is still too young to accept an adult beverage.
Let’s be honest. As children will do, they totally cut into my “me time.”
In all seriousness, though, these Airmen are bright, young women with an incredible future ahead of them, and I am duty-bound to ensure that doesn’t change.
Perhaps like many supervisors, sometimes I feel like a parent. I am responsible for these women and their development as Airmen. I have a vested interest in their success and a powerful role in their morale.
Sometimes that responsibility is easy, but sometimes that responsibility bolts me into action in the middle of the night.
One of my Airmen calls me from the side of the busiest highway in Denver, nearly in tears, and tells me that she had just been in her first car accident. As any good parent would do, I jump out of bed in my pajama pants and head out the door without thinking twice. In a flurry of hands-free phone calls to our first sergeant and my Airman, who is now backing up the highway for miles, we square everything away and get her back to base with the help of the police and a tow truck driver.
It was after everything was taken care of and she was back in her room that I truly realized being a supervisor was about more than solving a problem.
It was time to listen. She had been through her first car accident. She was in a brand new city. She was on her own for the first time. All things combined, I understood why she was so distraught. For me, this was a challenge to overcome; but for her, this may have been one of her most terrifying experiences. I knew I had to listen.
This experience taught me two valuable lessons. One, if my Airmen are in trouble, I need them to know they can trust me to take care of them. And two, I need a new pair of pajama pants because crushed blue velvet went out of style two decades ago.
How do I get these young Airmen to trust me? I am nearly 10 years older, and an entire generation separates my interests from theirs. How can I relate?
I became the next Sherlock Homes, paying attention to the little details to find common ground. My investigative eye was on overdrive as I tried to learn more about my other Airman.
She is quieter and less outspoken, but she is unbelievably artistic. Her talent with a drawing pencil makes my art look like a preschooler with a crayon. What do I have in common with a young female Michelangelo? During a dorm room inspection, I observed pop culture posters on the walls and spotted her video game system; I can relate to that.
Paying attention to my Airman allowed me a glimpse into her life. Still, was this enough to get her to connect with the oldest person in her work center?
It came down to what my dad did with me for our father-son bonding. He introduced me to Star Wars and Star Trek, engrained classic rock into my head, and shared outlandish stories of his past. These moments brought me closer to him, so I thought it might work with my Airmen.
Well, now they know more 1980s music than they ever thought they would, and have heard more “old-man” stories than they probably wished to hear. It took willingness from both sides to adapt, but at the end of the day, we built that Airman-supervisor connection.
They can trust me. They can come to me with problems I can help solve or just listen. We can celebrate together the successes they have achieved. Hearing that they won an award or were lauded by the commander gives me the same level of joy and pride as they have. I am proud of my Airmen, and they have become more than a required responsibility to me.
I believe every supervisor can come to feel this way. All it takes is a desire to be part of their Airmen’s lives and have a genuine interest in their well-being. Find your connections, build them, adapt as necessary and don’t give up on your Airmen.
For me, regardless of whether or not these young women are my blood, I wish only the best of success for my “daughters.”