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Virtual orientation prepares new leaders for success

photo of senior enlisted panel

A senior enlisted leader panel provides tips for success in managing today’s workforce during the virtual Squadron Leader Orientation course, July 14, 2020, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. During the week-long training, the event, held for the first time ever in a completely online format, included briefings on Air Force Materiel Command and subordinate center missions, panel discussions, mentorship sessions and workshops on topics ranging from leadership expectations to information on legal, financial and support programs and resources and diversity. (U.S. Air Force photo by Richard Hoiles)

photo of diversity session

Teresa Bickett, Air Force Materiel Command financial management deputy director, and Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander of AFMC, conduct a Diversity and Inclusion sensing session with virtual Squadron Leader Orientation course attendees, July 17, 2020, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. More than 60 Air Force leaders were present for the session which explored how to conduct crucial conversations about diversity within an organization. (U.S. Air Force photo by Richard Hoiles)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- More than 50 first-time commanders and civilian materiel leaders were prepped for success during the first virtual Air Force Materiel Command Squadron Leader Orientation, July 7-17.

“Let me assure you that as you step into this role, you are ready,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander of AFMC, in his opening remarks to the attendees. “Lead. You set the tone. You are the example your Airmen are going to follow. You don’t have to know everything, but if you use the resources around you, you are going to be successful.”

The event, held for the first time ever in a completely online format, included briefings on AFMC and subordinate center missions, panel discussions, mentorship sessions and workshops on topics ranging from leadership expectations to information on legal, financial and support programs and resources, diversity and more.

“Typically this is a brick-and-mortar event held at AFMC headquarters, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, we needed to find a creative way to ensure our new command leaders were set for success. We developed a hybrid-virtual concept for the event that would provide both the education and tools our new leaders need to be successful as well as the opportunity to interact with other command leaders,” said Kathy Goforth, AFMC officer development program manager. “This course is key to preparing our new squadron leaders to meet command responsibilities as they execute their mission, lead people, manage resources and improve their units for the future.”

During the first week of training, attendees viewed a series of prerecorded, virtual briefings, with the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback to the briefers through the course platform. The following week, the new leaders attended a series of interactive, livestream events including briefings by AFMC senior leaders, short lectures on leadership from guest speakers and command mentors, an interactive panel with senior enlisted leaders, and breakout sessions on select topic areas. Keynote presentations included senior leader perspectives on command, the civilian workforce perspective, the importance of building trust, suicide, private-sector outlooks on customer support, interactive vignettes on personnel challenges frequently faced by leaders and more.

“By providing both prerecorded as well as live training, we felt we could cover topics more in-depth and provide our leaders with the opportunity to refer back to the training in the future,” Goforth said.

The final day of the SLO focused on diversity, with a briefing on unconscious bias and a diversity and inclusion sensing panel hosted by Bunch, Maj. Gen. Stacey Hawkins, AFMC Logistics, Civil Engineering, Force Protection and Nuclear Integration director, and Teresa Bickett, AFMC Financial Management deputy director. In the non-attribution sensing session, the attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and provide perspectives on the current world situation and receive advice from senior leaders so they can conduct their own events in the future.

“Today was valuable. I really enjoyed the discussions and the briefing on unconscious bias. I am going to take the lessons from the unconscious bias training to help me identify and work on improving my blind spots so that I can ensure our practices continue to improve,” said Jeff Base, 565th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Overall feedback for the virtual SLO is positive, Goforth said, which she attributes to the hard work and creativity of the planning team in the weeks leading up to the event. New leaders frequently cited the panels and interactive senior leader sessions as the most valuable parts of the training, with all of the content important as they lead into the future.

“I feel more prepared by attending the AFMC SLO. The team did a wonderful job of capturing timely, key topics and tackling our questions as we take command," said Maj. Daniel Scott, inbound squadron commander for the 438th Supply Chain Operations Squadron. "I plan on communicating with my Airmen early and often, asking how they are doing and being responsive to their needs.”

For another leader, the SLO provided new opportunities to get to know fellow leaders and a better understanding of creative ways to communicate in the current operating environment of social distancing and telework due to COVID-19.

“Coming into this role during max telework has made getting to know people and their roles difficult,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Givens, materiel leader, Laser Applications Branch, Directed Energy Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory. “SLO was particularly helpful in giving me confidence to take ownership and reach out to people directly.”

While it is still largely unknown whether all future training events such as this will be conducted online or in person, the success of the virtual SLO gives Goforth and her team the confidence that they can execute this and similar events successfully as well.

“This was a learning experience not only for the new leaders but for our team as well. I am grateful for the hard work and support of our leadership and the entire command in helping to make this event a success. We could not have been as successful without them,” she said.

The next iteration of the SLO is scheduled to begin Aug. 3. A complementary SLO spouse course will run from Aug. 17-21.

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