Coming to you from the flight deck

Lt. Col. Paul Theriot, 17th Airlift Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Paul Theriot, 17th Airlift Squadron commander

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Thirty-two thousand feet.  Four hundred and fifty miles per-hour.  It's 2 a.m., and quiet.  The aircrew of Reach 723 is just starting its journey across the Atlantic.  Because my commentary deadline for the Patriot is the same week as one of my all-too-infrequent C-17 missions, the flight deck is my "office" for composing my thoughts.  Unfortunate timing you might think. On the contrary, it's the perfect place to find some perspective worthy of sharing!

Flying has a way of crystallizing a thousand data points into very simple realities: airspeed is life.  If you weigh too much, the airplane won't climb.  If you remember you left your ID card in base ops during take-off roll, it's too late.  In the same way, I've seen a few points crystallized over my last 15 months of command that stand out as keys to success for any Airman. 

First, know and do your job. However, on occasion, do something else to show you have excess capacity.  Second, at the heart of everything we do is the individual Airman and at every echelon, our actions must reflect this reality.  Finally, a job without moments of fun is miserable; seek those moments and return to them as often as possible.   

"Know and do your job" is a great summary of what I will ask of my crew for the duration of this mission.  Everyone has a specific role from the moment we arrived at the squadron, to when we are mission-complete in Germany, riding away on the crew bus.  Between those events, there is a long 10 hour flight that can be spent many different ways.  It can be spent staring out the window doing the minimum to safely get across the ocean or it can be spent on countless opportunities preparing for the next day's flight, participating in a study session or making other contributions toward smooth mission execution. 

I see the same dynamic during daily squadron activities.  It doesn't take long to determine not only knows and does their job but demonstrates their excess capacity. They want to take on larger, more challenging tasks.  When I meet with new squadron members, they ask about ways to succeed in the Air Force, I encourage them not to just complete a task but to look at it from different angles, present unique courses-of-action, and provide more than the minimum required.  In my nearly 17 years of service, I've learned that doing a little "above and beyond" results in a positive reputation for being a hard worker desirous of greater responsibility.  The recognition may not be quick; but being a solid job performer and routinely taking on a little extra is a nearly unfailing recipe for success.

Every crew has a different dynamic and this crew is no different.  My loadmasters have a combined 60 years of service between the three of them and all have been evaluators at some time in their career.  The two other pilots are both relatively new and still learning.  As the aircraft commander, it is my responsibility to provide guidance and direction that meets the different needs and capabilities of these crew members.  When done properly, everyone is able to contribute to the mission no matter how long they have been flying.  This is at the heart of what we call "Crew Resource Management."  Good crew management leads to safe mission accomplishment. 

Leaders at every level in an organization have an obligation to manage their "crew members," or Airmen, just as diligently.  Some crew members will earn praise from their leaders' while others will receive their leaders' frustration and disappointment.  Some are easy to get to know, others take more effort.  Some are tracking for a successful Air Force career while others are tracking toward opportunities in the civilian sector.  From a commander's perspective and really all leaders, we must get to know these different personalities and give them the tools and opportunity to contribute to the mission, just like the young pilots on my crew.  There are no "hopeless cases" (though there will always be some self-eliminators), there is no room for cliques or "playing favorites" and there is no anonymity allowed.  Throughout the last 15 months, my most cherished feedback has been that I care deeply for every individual, because that has been my goal.

This may come as a surprise to some but flying is not always fun.  There are plenty of exhausting days, hair-raising experiences and days when I'm not on my "A" game.  On this particular mission it was very difficult to obtain our clearance to cross the Atlantic. We were all starting to get a little nervous that we were either going to get violated by Air Traffic Control or have to turn around.  This was decidedly not fun.  On the whole though, being a pilot is a great job and I never have to search too hard at the end of the day, or the end of a decade, to remember the fun experiences that remind me how fortunate I am to have this job.

The same notion applies in the other half (or more realistically, the other 90 percent) of my Air Force life which I spend on the ground.  Generally speaking, whether a commander, junior officer, young Airman or civilian, we are typically not living a "rock star" lifestyle.  The hours are long, the work can be mundane, the pay is so-so, the tasks do not slow down, nor does the paperwork.  Sometimes the supervisors are not the ones we read about in PME.  As a commander who spends countless hours talking to Airmen, I understand all this. At every opportunity, I encourage folks not to dwell on the negatives but to find the fun moments in their daily activities and return to them.  If you are in the aerial port squadron, maybe it's break time hanging out on that awesome back porch you have.  If you are aircrew, maybe it's that extended crew rest in Germany.  Yes, sometimes it can be "gallows" humor but that's okay too.  Our experience in the Air Force  and life in general, is largely shaped by what we choose to focus on at the end of the day.  Find the fun in your day-to-day and return to it often.

This eight-hour flight is nearing completion and so is this commentary.  Time for me to get back to doing my job, taking care of these other five guys and getting ready to focus on some fun during our crewrest!