Command chiefs address concerns, offer advice during AFA convention forum

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Issues affecting America's Airmen took center stage Sept. 19 during the Air Force Association's 2011 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition's Command Chief Master Sergeants Forum here Sept. 19.

The forum provided Airmen an opportunity to communicate directly with chiefs on hot-button topics including Airman professionalism, supervising the millennial generation, posturing for the future, the Air Force Academy, uniforms and standards, facing challenges and the strain affecting the enlisted corps.

Chief Master Sgt. Eric Jaren, the Air Force Material Command command chief, moderated the forum, and panel members came from various commands.

The forum began with an explanation by each of the chiefs on how Airmen are professionals, with the Air Force District of Washington command chief emphasizing recent development initiatives for Airmen.

"We are professional Airmen, and I think, we're professional as long as we continue to act and develop and become professionals," said Chief Master Sgt. Pat Battenberg, the AFDW command chief. "I think the things that we've seen change, in the last year and a half to two years, to deliberately develop those Airmen are going a long way to ensure that we have professional Airmen."

Ways to supervise millennial Airmen were also addressed. Responses included taking time to understand what motivates Airmen and how Airmen communicate.

"There are challenges when leading through the generations," said Chief Master Sgt. James Cody, the Air Education and Training Command command chief. He said, for the chiefs' generation, face-to-face communication is what they grew up with, but younger Airmen communicate differently.

"You pick it - blog, Twitter, Facebook - all these different media where we're socially networked," Cody said. "My mantra, while I'm out there, is 'that may be a social network, but it's not a social connection.'

"I think our job as leaders in the Air Force is to make sure we connect with our Airmen in a way that we know we're people, we're individuals, we're human beings, and although social networking is a critical aspect of how we can do a lot of things, it's not a social connection," he explained.

Battenberg added, leaders should provide Airmen training, give them guidance, set the example, and then "get out of the way and then let them do the job."

Questions also arose about opportunities for noncommissioned officers at the Air Force Academy and on how Academy cadets learn to lead enlisted members.

"We have academy military trainers, you might consider them MTLs (military training leaders) in the AETC realm, and we have two in each squadron of 40," said Chief Master Sgt. Todd Salzman, the Air Force Academy command chief.

The chief added, he feels the Air Force owes young men and women going through the Academy a nugget of real-world information and experience every day during their four years, so when the cadets leave as a second lieutenants, they are ready to lead Airmen with a lot of experience. The Academy's enlisted members, hand-picked and who average 3-4 deployments and 15 years in the service as technicians and supervisors, prepare the cadets for that future.

The panel also addressed challenges facing the enlisted corps and how enlisted leaders from their commands are addressing it.

"With us, it's time, more than anything, and resources," said Chief Master Sgt. Chris Muncy, the Air National Guard command chief. "All three parts of the total force push the ancillary training piece, which eats a lot of our time. Our folks want to contribute and push forward, but it's budget and time."

AETC is working with subject matter experts from all Air Force specialties to transform how it does business to continue producing the best Airmen, making sure they meet the qualifications warfighters and commanders need.

"What we do in AETC we do for our Air Force," said Cody. "We're faced with 'how do we transform, to how we're going to do it in the future and make sure we have the right people trained and educated for what's ahead.'"

The chiefs identified what they see producing the largest strain on the enlisted corps and what current leaders can do about it. Their list included fear of the unknown regarding impact of budget changes on Airmen and families, the stress of operations tempo, and the public not being aware of what Airmen are doing around the world.

The chiefs emphasized, current leaders can address these issues by communicating directly with Airmen, in person, about current issues and sharing experiences about previous lean times, having faith in the decisions of leaders, fostering a holistic approach to create a resilient force and families, and communicate more about what Airmen do and how they contribute to global missions.

"Most of the folks out in the American public - they think there's two folks in the fight - it's the Soldier and Marine," said Muncy. "They don't know who gets them there; they don't know who flies (close air support) for them, or who does their [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], their cyber piece for them. Of course it's us, but we don't talk about that, because we're humble servants. Our Airmen think of that when they come back."

When Air Guardsmen talk about where they were deployed when they return home, people don't recognize the locations they deployed to, ask questions like "Are you on Seal Team Six?" and if they say no, then assume they just weren't there, the chief added.

"It stresses our folks out, and I think they do tell their story, but just not enough. We need to tell our Air Force story because the American public needs to know we're there, and they don't. That in turn affects our Airmen." Muncy continued. "And those stresses turn on them, because 99.3 percent of their friends don't do this. They're going to deploy again, and then where's the support for their family and their kids? It's systemic, but it's a stress."

The command chiefs closed with advice for junior Airmen and officers.

"Stay strong. Continue to stay focused on the things that matter. For those that are in leadership positions, protect your Airmen from those things that distract them from the mission - that's your job to absorb that," said Chief Master Sgt. William Turner, the Air Force Special Operations Command command chief. "Execute your mission to the best of your ability, trust in the leadership that you have, don't be afraid to raise questions up. Go out there and be the best Airman that you can be."