TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – In 2015, while stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, I was approached by the 1st Fighter Wing command chief who offered me the opportunity to work with NATO. I would be working in Allied Command Transformation’s Command senior enlisted leader’s office with Command Chief Master Sgt. Jack Johnson Jr.
My policy is to jump at any opportunities, so I quickly answered, “Yes.” My next thought was, “Did I just commit to a permanent change of station to Europe without speaking to my wife?”
She is in the U.S. Navy and requesting a join assignment can be quite difficult. Fortunately, like most of us, I did not know as much as I should about the NATO alliance. Even though I had previous experience with NATO exercises and deployed on one of their missions, I didn’t know their organizational structure or that there are 29 independent nations and two headquarters in NATO, with one of them being just minutes from my home in Norfolk, Virginia.
I sat down with Johnson and he explained what we would be doing and stressed what I had always known, but never really stated, “relationships matter.” The chief was correct. I was a people person and being stationed overseas prepared me a little for my time at NATO, but I needed to take the time to develop relationships. Taking the time to speak with people, grab a coffee or lunch helped give me a greater understanding of cultural differences and where people were from, which led to a mutual respect for one another. But this concept is not only relevant to NATO. Our states, borders and territories span thousands of miles. Americans come from many different origins much of which was influenced by migration throughout the years and all of which makes our nation great.
My advice to you is to embrace differences and foster relationships to create an inclusive environment where all personnel that fuel our complex machine can contribute to the Air Force and help us thrive. This includes our sister services, active, guard, reserve, and civilian Airmen, as well as our international and community partners.
Take the time to get to know the personnel you interact with, break away from the computers and go look them in the eye and introduce yourself. Say ‘thank you’ for what they do. Regardless of the demeanor of the person you are interacting with, follow the golden rule and treat others as you want to be treated. Always maintain your military bearing and don’t let your emotions drive the conversation. Building relationships and networking is a critical skill that we all need to perfect. It is often who you know that enables operational success.
My father always told me, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” We know it as, “Excellence in all we do.” I can promise you what we do is worth doing. After all, security of the free world depends upon our strength and unity. Thank you for what you bring to the fight. Remember, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” (Old African Proverb)