This OP-ED was published last week on the RAF Lakenheath website. It was written by Col Robert Novotny, the 48th Fighter Wing CC. I’m sharing it because it’s as refreshing as it is controversial. The reason it’s controversial is becuase we have a senior leader telling Airmen to focus in the mission. The Air Force has completely lost its way in recent years. Mission seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind as they all scramble to do non-mission things in order to get promoted. There’s another reason I like this letter. It sounds like Col Novotny knows how to run a short meeting.
Senior Airman BTZ? Be the ‘Wolf!’
by Col. Robert Novotny
48th Fighter Wing Commander
3/15/2016 – ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England — There are three meetings I attend every week, and they’re the most important meetings in my current job.
The first is Wing Stand-Up, held three days a week, where we cover the status of our aircrew, pararescuemen, all 81 combat aircraft, the airfield, communications and logistics. Our mission is simple…Deliver Precise Combat Power from the Air, and Stand-Up sets the tone. This, my most important meeting, lasts about 20 minutes, except when we fold in weekly intelligence updates, which adds 10 more.
My second important meeting is the Newcomers Welcome, held every Tuesday morning. There are no slides. The Command Chief and I speak to all base newcomers for only 30 minutes. It’s important because everyone needs to “hear it from the horse’s mouth” about how important the Liberty Wing is to the National Security of the United States and NATO. We don’t talk about DUIs, reflective belts or policy letters. We talk about the mission of the wing.
The final important meeting is on Thursdays, when I have lunch with our First-Term Airmen Center, or FTAC, graduates. After a few days of base indoctrination and adjustment, the Command Chief and I eat lunch with the FTAC’ers to, again, “hear it from the horse’s mouth.” I talk for about 10 minutes, and the remaining 50-minute lunch is spent answering questions and dispelling rumors. I want them to know exactly how to make a good first impression and how their individual actions impact the wing’s mission.
During a recent FTAC lunch, I was asked a well-meant question by a young Airman, but, in the end, it was actually quite disappointing. Essentially, this Airman asked if there were any volunteer activities that the Chief and I could point him toward so he could highlight himself for Senior Airman Below-the-Zone consideration. Regrettably, this was not the first time I’d been asked a question about “extracurricular activities” that might be regarded for promotion or advancement. About half of his lunch-mate’s ears perked up, while the other half had expressions of disdain. I waited a few seconds to respond.
My answer was simple: “STOP! Wrap yourself in the mission, and become the ‘wolf.'” He looked at me confused, so I went on to explain. Volunteerism or extracurricular activities are exactly the things I am NOT looking for. Instead, I want this young American to dive, head-first, into their new job. Become the very best Airman: skilled, motivated, optimistic and aggressive about getting the mission done. In my opinion, raising your right hand at basic military training satisfies the volunteerism category for a good couple of years.
As a young pilot, I was consumed by my profession. I spent weekends in our vault, flying the little desktop trainer with classified copies of the tactics manuals open next to the machine. I read countless Weapons School papers and never passed up an opportunity to deploy with the squadron. While there were numerous pilots more talented than me, I would wager that I worked harder than the many of them. I also crushed my additional duty as the Chief of Squadron Training. If the Operations Officer gave me a task, it got done, quick. And suddenly, I became a go-to officer. Unknowingly, I became one of the ‘wolves.’
I told this young Airman about becoming the best in their flight, section, or squadron. The Airman who, when the squadron deploys, your name will be high on the list, because you know your craft, you work hard, you’re a good teammate, and, if there’s a crappy job to get done, the leadership can count on you to “git ‘er done.”
Harvey Keitel said in Pulp Fiction, “I’m Winston Wolfe. I solve problems.”
Without a doubt, your section chief or first sergeant has an additional duty or project that has command interest – like running the next retirement ceremony, leading the Air Force Assistance Fund campaign in the squadron or something like that. Those are important tasks that the commander needs to get done so he or she can continue to focus on the mission. Like flies that need to be swatted, the ‘wolf’ makes light of those tasks, alleviating the burden on the squadron.
Be the first Airman into upgrade training – the one who knows the tech orders and Air Force Instructions better than anyone. Always be willing to help with the toughest surgery, hardest broke jet, longest mission-planning session, rainiest guard posting, worst weekend shift or what have you. Be dependable, competent, efficient and aggressive. Understand how and where you fit into the wing’s mission and why your job is important. Finally, be the Airman who FINDS A WAY TO ‘YES.’
I firmly believe these ideas are being captured by our enlisted evaluation system changes. While the roll-out has been rocky, and we’re far from perfect, I am incredibly pleased with the change toward recognizing ‘wolves’ earlier. At Lakenheath, we’ve made changes to our quarterly awards, prioritizing mission accomplishment over the other categories. We are looking to identify and promote ‘wolves.’
Don’t get me wrong, volunteering because you have time and you genuinely want to volunteer is awesome. Events like our Annual Awards party, which 1,000 people attended, the Air Force Ball, with 950 attendees, the Maintenance Professional of the Year banquet, with 1,200 people in attendance, our 9/11 remembrance ceremony, and more, are made possible because of volunteers. But volunteering because you need to round-out an awards package is not what we need. Spend that extra time learning more about your job.
Wing commanders coin ‘wolves.’ Squadron Commanders promote ‘wolves’ to Senior Airman BTZ. There is no secret. It’s simple: Crush your job, be the best in your section, flight or squadron. Evolve into the ‘wolf’, and, I guarantee, you will find what you seek.