Next Airman up

Lt. Col. Robert Rayner, 921st Contingency Response Squadron, shares some thoughts on leadership. (U.S. Air Force Courtesy Photo)

Lt. Col. Robert Rayner, 921st Contingency Response Squadron, shares some thoughts on leadership. (U.S. Air Force Courtesy Photo)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “Hey John, when you get back from C-17 re-qual you’ll be on G-series orders. The squadron is yours!” 

That completed my hand-over of squadron commander responsibilities to my operations officer on November 9, 2016. I returned to the seat nearly five months later on April 3.


Needless to say, last fall was an exciting time for the 821st Contingency Response Group. The group rapidly deployed two air base opening teams to austere and hostile locations in Iraq and Syria.  Both missions were enormously successful and directly contributed to the ongoing fight against the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria. The missions employed over 100 CRG airmen spanning all three CRG squadrons.  Although the mission of the group is to deploy as a squadron or as a group, theoretically “turning out the lights” on the home station squadron, that was not the case. 

Despite deploying over 100 airmen including the group commander, the deputy group commander, two squadron commanders, one chief, and numerous senior noncommissioned officers and officers, the home station squadrons definitely kept the lights on. The in-garrison mission of the CRG did not end.  Air Mobility Command taskings continued; there were airmen to lead, reports to complete, training to accomplish, and most importantly, families of deployers to support. It was during this time that the CRG relied upon the “next up” strategy. 

With very little if any hand-over, the one remaining squadron commander became the acting group commander, three operations officers became acting squadron commanders, assistant operations officers assumed operations officer responsibilities and so on down the line.  Squadron chiefs, already in leadership positions, were asked to do even more, and squadron first sergeants stepped up to provide much needed continuity. This was not a simple one or two week stand-in that is commonplace in every squadron – in this case both deployments spanned over three months. In my squadron, the 921st Contingency Response Squadron, Maj. John Berger, Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Whitley and Master Sgt. Brandon Gallant led boldly in my absence.  They executed the mission, championed training and supported our Airmen and their families.  Their willingness to lead and dedication to our squadron left a lasting impression on me and all the airmen of the 921st CRS. 

In the CRG and the Air Force at large, our airmen must first own their primary duty. It is the badge you wear on your uniform, it is your craft and area of expertise. However, we must also look to the future and be deliberate in professional development, seizing leadership opportunities and challenging airmen to expand their horizons to take on the next role and the responsibilities that come along with it.  Making time for professional development outside of required professional military education and training upgrades is difficult, and it is often the first item cut when the mission cranks up.  However, as we witnessed this fall, it is essential to prepare the next airman up. 

Ask yourself, Are you ready for the next role? Am I developing that next leader? Next Airman up.