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Vietnam veteran tells today's Airmen 'stay focused'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Gena Armstrong
  • Det. 12, Air Force News Agency
The knowledge and experience that Air Force retirees share with current Airmen can help develop careers.

Retired Col. James Gilliland holds his audience in rapt attention while he tells stories of his progression as an RF-4C pilot and shares his experiences flying during the Vietnam War. With 30 years of active-duty service and 100 reconnaissance sorties under his belt, he has a lot to share.

"Well I think (current Airmen) need to relate to historical activity from previous combat, if that's the area they're concerned with, (and) how leadership was applied back then," Colonel Gilliland said. 

"Leadership is not trying to get people to follow you, but making them surface to where they would be the leaders. And they really can if they're given that latitude to expand themselves," he said. 

Sharing personal experiences with others is a method of mentorship that Gilliland learned from supervisors throughout his career.

"You learn through that and many times through my career I'd remember those conversations and just do it."

That "just do it" mentality is advice he's since lived by -- coming up with ideas and following them through to success.

"What I've found is others who didn't, the boss would say 'Well it's a good idea, let's think about it, we'll talk about it later' as opposed to just going ahead and doing it," Colonel Gilliland said.

His advice to Airmen on active duty is to keep focused on the mission.

"While we were in the routine, the daily missions that we were making, you really didn't worry about the other parts of the command or what they were doing and so forth. You really focused on your mission," he said. "And of course when we left the flying after my 100 missions then it was very different there at the headquarters and was again focused with the responsibility that you had. So other people were looking at the larger picture."

Colonel Gilliland also passed his military legacy down to his three sons, who are all serving on active duty. Together, the family has contributed about 70 years of military service.

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