Brig. Gen. John C. Flournoy Jr., commander, Headquarters 4th Air Force, read about being nominated for a second star in a text from his wife when he woke up and checked his phone messages at 4:30 a.m., just prior to departing Antarctica.
“The text read, ‘Congrats honey…list came out today. You are on it.’ It was quite the pleasant thing to wake up to,” said Flournoy, who was on his last day on the ice as part of the Deep Freeze mission.
The promotion means a lot to the general personally, he said, but he is happy to serve in any capacity.
“As a second lieutenant, I never dreamed that I’d be a lieutenant colonel, much less having the blessing of serving in this capacity. With or without the promotion I feel blessed and fortunate.”
The general’s leadership is based on what the Air Force as a whole is built on, our core values, said Capt. Leanne Babcock, his executive officer.
“His leadership style is that of a servant-leader,” Babcock said. “He wants to be out, around his Airmen. He wants to see them working, to answer their questions.”
Being extremely cognizant of the customer service portion that the numbered air force staff provides is one of her boss’s strong points, Babcock said.
“He knows that we have 30,000 Airmen out there who are ARTs, AGRs and traditional reservists that need just as much attention, if not more, than everybody here every day,” she said. “We always keep in the back of our minds that we are serving the youngest ranking Airman at the unit level.”
After making the list of presidential nominees, Flournoy’s name must be submitted to the Senate for approval, after which a promotion date is established. He anticipates that he’ll be able to pin on his second star shortly after the announcement is made.
His many years of service gives the general experience to know that things will fall into place if you do the best job you can do at the job you are given, a practice which he works on daily while encouraging others to do the same.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to work with so many professionals that are passionate about what they do, and to be able to go out and help them every day as the NAF (numbered Air Force) commander, to try to kick down doors and open up opportunities for people,” Flournoy said. “Any day I can do that, it’s a good day.”
Since taking command here in November 2013, Flournoy has learned that there are a lot of NAF employees who are experts in their career fields and dedicated to helping the other units, especially through the numbers of transitions that they have gone through, he said. Units have closed, others have opened and some have transitioned air frames. The rumor mill is always churning as well, he said.
“It’s tough. I spend a lot of time doing administrative things that we used to have staffs for,” Flournoy said. “I’ve learned that I’ve got to really organize my time in order to get things that people are waiting on through in a timely fashion.”
The general said that, although tough, he wouldn’t trade it for the world because he gets to go out and visit the Airmen in his units and see, first hand, what he calls “their burs in the saddle.”
He wants to know what is causing those Airmen to want to choose something else so he and his staff can work on those issues for better retainability and more satisfied Airmen, he said.
Flournoy said he strives to establish a culture where people feel comfortable and want to come to work because they are waiting on that phone call from the wing that needs help, one where people are able to do things that they never thought they would be able to do.
“General Flournoy is a very good commander who cares about his people,” said Sherry Kemper, the commander’s secretary. “He does things as they should be done and doesn’t take shortcuts.”
Kemper, who has been the secretary for the previous three NAF commanders, said one thing she admires about Flournoy is that he does a hand-written note to people when he comes back from his trips.
“He just doesn’t sign letters, he writes them. He’s the only commander who I have worked for that has done that,” Kemper said. “People need to know that he listens (and) he will listen to you.”
She added that although the working environment is very relaxed and that he definitely has an open-door policy.
“I operate on a one team, no seam concept. I don’t care what uniform you are wearing or what patch you are wearing. The enemy is not inside the gate,” Flournoy said.
Flournoy leads using nine pieces of advice that he shares with each wing he visits, Babcock said. Although the last line is to have fun, Babcock said it permeates throughout all the rest.
“He wants us, at the end of our career, to be able to sit on the front porch and say ‘Man that was fun!’ Having fun and getting the job done, that’s what I take away from him.”
Someone gave him a chance and he hopes his promotion will allow him to give others some opportunities to excel and to do something beyond what they ever thought they would have the opportunity to accomplish.
When people get possessive of their processes, finances, jobs, etc., Flournoy said it is difficult to go through change.
“We are all in this for the betterment of the entire Department of Defense and the nation. We’ve got a job to do. Let’s go be the best we can at getting it done.”
Flournoy’s “Nine Lines”
1. Live the Air Force Core Values 24/7, on/off base, in/out of uniform.
2. Treat others how you want to be treated.
3. Hold yourself and others accountable.
4. Be Fit to Fight year round (military).
5. Be Mission Ready year round.
6. Use your chain of command.
7. Be a good Wingman.
8. Maintain a culture of compliance.
9. Have fun!