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Some thoughts and hints for your career

  • Published
  • By Col. Robert Eatman
  • 60th Mission Support Squadron commnader
One of the benefits of some 28 years of combined enlisted and commissioned service, in the Reserve, Guard and Active components is having the opportunity to observe so many Airmen in action and learn from them.

I have no great pearls of wisdom to share, but perhaps some shiny bits of glass you can polish and find useful as you continue to serve this great Air Force.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. "Ranger" Harper said, "Never miss an opportunity to say nothing at all." If you want to be the smartest one at the meeting, speak least and last. I learned this one from a general who appeared, at least to this public-school educated officer, to be incredibly insightful. He shared with me that he wasn't any brighter than anyone else in the room, but he was smart enough to listen to everyone else before speaking and in doing so knew what they knew. Those who know me also know I'm still working on this one.

Pray for rain. The best advice I believe I ever gave my young security forces second lieutenants was to get out in the field, pray for rain and then act accordingly. Airmen never expected their brand new "butter-bars" to know much, but seeing a new lieutenant soaking wet, cold, uncomfortable, but "trooping the line" in the mud was good for their morale and boosted confidence in their leader. It showed the Airmen their lieutenant cared about them more than about herself. She put their needs above her own and that began to establish a foundation of trust absolutely necessary in combat. The Airmen knew the "L.T." had a comfortable vehicle or tent somewhere else, but chose to share a bit of their misery and perhaps some coffee. It never failed to get back to my ears what the L.T. did in the field. That L.T.'s Airmen were proud to claim her as "my L.T." when they talked about their field exercise.

Know the rules of the game you're playing. It does no good to be the best football player in the world if everyone else on the field is playing rugby. You're going to get crushed. The Air Force always promotes the best records-always. So, if you're as good as you think you are, be sure your records tell the right story. I've heard officers, typically when explaining why they hadn't completed professional military education or a master's degree, complain that they'd been too busy doing their job or they were always deployed. Roger, got it. You're playing an awesome game of football, but the Air Force is playing rugby. You're going to get crushed. Understand your Air Force determines what behavior, experience, skills and attributes are important and valued for each grade and promotes accordingly.

Lawrence Kratz said, "If you are a block ahead of the parade ... you're leading it. If you are two blocks ahead of the parade, you aren't even in it." When you are the leader, communicate your vision. Tell your Airmen why they do what they do and why it is important. Never assume they know. It's not enough that you know where you're going. You must communicate that vision and your enthusiasm to others. If you fail to do so, you risk outrunning your headlights and finding yourself alone and in the dark.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, never ever forget how awesome Airmen are. We have Airmen, some not yet old enough to drink, doing things on a daily basis their friends back home can only dream about. If you're looking for your heroes in Hollywood or professional sports, you'll find extremely poor imitations of the real thing. Heroes walk among us. In the time it took me to write this article, Airmen have written another chapter in their legacy of valor. A former Travis Airman was just awarded his fourth Bronze Star medal, having accomplished in excess of 500 combat missions, rendering safe more than 200 explosive devices and incurring injuries in accomplishment of the mission.

A Travis Honor Guardsman led a team of razor sharp, highly trained and dedicated Airmen on another burial detail at which presented a folded flag to the next of kin and lent an enhanced sense of honor and dignity to a somber event.

Somewhere, on a remote airfield where the threat is high or the situation unknown, a small, highly lethal and capable young Airman and his partner, both Ravens, stood alone and unafraid ready to protect their aircraft and aircrew.

In Afghanistan, a young logistics readiness Airman just completed a grueling outside-the-wire convoy in support of a Provincial Reconstruction Team, helping improve the lives of Afghan citizens and fighting his way back to base through those who are threatened by such improvement.

A young contracting Airmen just concluded yet another deployment where he singlehandedly authored, negotiated and awarded over $120 million in contract actions with U.S., international and Afghan businesses, strengthening partnerships and building confidence in government.

A few hundred feet in the air on a steel tower in the hills of Afghanistan, despite the threat of snipers, a communications Airman, connected to the tower by just a harness and karabiner, adjusted an antenna passing C2 and intelligence data critical to time sensitive targeting for U.S. forces engaging the enemy.

All of this was done by our Airmen without fanfare and continues to be done daily. I am humbled by our Airmen, their dedication and their sacrifice.

I'll stand on a stage July 13 and hear an order read that says "you are hereby relieved from active duty" and I can guarantee you'll see both a tear in my eye and a grin on my face. I'll miss having been part of the greatest Air Force on the planet and the most professional group of Americans, but I'll be watching you in the news and bragging about you to anyone foolish enough to ask me what I did before I retired.