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Up and In Leadership

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – I joined the Air Force at 17 years old to serve my country, play college baseball and fly airplanes.

In high school, I discovered the Air Force Academy allowed me to chase those dreams simultaneously, however, at 17, I did not fully comprehend military service. While my grandfathers both served our country with distinction, I did not see military service up close during my childhood. Now, 20 years after arriving at the Air Force Academy as a cadet, my perspective is different.

Aviating, in combat and across our globe, still holds the allure I imagined as a teenager, however, what holds me in our Air Force are people and relationships. At some point along the way, the power of community surpassed the glory of slipping the surly bonds of Earth. I am here today because of friendships and community, past and present. I am here today because of the opportunity to serve alongside Airmen committed to something greater than themselves.

For two years, our service embarked on a journey to rediscover and revitalize our most important organization—our squadron. Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, considers the squadron our “beating heart . . . where we succeed or fail as an Air Force.” In our squadrons, we develop, encourage, care for and retain our Airmen and families. When we step onto the field, we win or lose as a squadron. As professional aviators, combat leaders and support professionals, our success is highly dependent on the bonds that connect us and the strength of our teams.

To revitalize our squadrons, leaders at all levels must excel in two important endeavors. First, leaders must lift up those they lead, in order that subordinates discover better versions of themselves. This is done through effective instructing, mentoring, coaching, counseling and evaluating.

Second, leaders must bring people together, organized around a shared vision of success. This is “up and in leadership.” It transforms both organizations and individuals. It is this type of leadership that we must choose in order to continue revitalizing our squadrons. It is this type of leadership that our profession of arms demands.

Retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, are staunch advocates of leaders growing their teams with elevating and uniting principles. In his book, “Radical Inclusion,” Dempsey argues we must combat our impulses to over-control and exclude as we lead by adopting an approach of radical inclusion. Brown, in her TED Talk titled, “The Power of Vulnerability,” speaks about the human need for belonging and the necessity of leaders to create and sustain it in their organizations. We grow our teams when we lead with inclusivity and inculcate a sense of belonging for our teammates.

We see “up and in leadership” regularly in the 21st Airlift Squadron. It is on display when our deployed teammates lead in combat, care for one another and create phenomenal community while deployed in United States Central Command. It is on display when our youngest Airmen ask, “What can we do for our squadron?” It is on display when our flight commanders and flight chiefs pour their hearts and souls into their Airmen. Self-minimizing and others-maximizing leadership is at the core of building our squadrons. This is “up and in leadership” at its best.

Fueled with exceptional leadership, we must strengthen our squadrons for an unknown and possibly perilous future of great-power competition. Whether a member of a support organization or an operational unit, leaders must practice “up and in leadership.” We all must choose to invest in our future by building our squadrons.

Choose one another, choose our squadrons and choose a better future.