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Spur Airmen to develop their knowledge

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Fencisco Harris
  • 60th Maintenance Squadron
Gen. Mark Welsh III, Chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, said we all have a story to tell. Here is mine.

January 15, 1997, is a day I will never forget.  I remember the solemn 2 a.m. bus ride to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the "greeting" provided by the Military Training Instructors. 

Upon being yelled off the bus, I honed my skills at lifting and lowering my suitcase a hundred times while three MTI "Goliaths" yelled at me.  After receiving my worst-ever haircut (the barber laughed when I asked for a fade), our MTI taught us that we could shave in less than 15 seconds, with a razor without shaving cream. This was Airman Basic Fencisco Harris' first day in the Air Force.

Why did I become an officer?  My first supervisor insisted I have a sharp uniform and boots every day.  I resisted one time, spurting out what my peers at the smoke pit told me, "We are KC-135 crew chiefs and we worked for a living." After my supervisor jumped all down my backside, I polished my black boots every night and ensured my battle dress uniforms kept a crease.

Then my supervisor started playing "stump the dummy," asking me questions about the aircraft.  I disliked the ridicule when I didn't know, so I blew through my career development courses so I could focus on learning the KC-135. 

Little did I know, my supervisor wasn't belittling me, he was deliberately developing my knowledge. He then told me to start taking college classes. He had his CCAF degree and he would not allow me to wait. I caught fire from there.  I changed my assignment from the flight line to the maintenance squadron and as a staff sergeant select, I was the swing shift section NCO in-charge of the maintenance flight.

After I won the Wing's Airman of the Year, the then command chief Kirk Whitman, now a retired chief master sergeant and Travis Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, vouched on my behalf to the Wing Commander, who signed my Officer Training School package. 

I became an officer because I desired to have a larger impact.  Nineteen years and eight bases later, I have two lessons I'd like to share.   

Servant leadership. It's imperative for leaders to understand what it means to serve those you supervise or lead.  I challenge myself daily to find better ways to serve the more than 500 Airmen and civilians who make up the 60th Maintenance Squadron.  As leaders, we positively or negatively impact our Airmen daily.  I often think about the pyramid model that shows the leader at the top. As leaders, we need to turn that triangle around. Our people do not serve us, but, instead, we are to serve them. Is this easy?  Definitely not, but the learning of a leader never ceases.

Feedback. There are many views about how the Air Force has implemented the Enlisted Performance Report system. There is one indisputable fact: the success is linked to accurate, timely Airman Comprehensive Assessment feedbacks.  If you have not received a written feedback, request one.  Your initial feedback should outline your supervisor's expectations.  Your midterm feedback at six months prior to closeout should cover how you are meeting your supervisor's expectations.  When you receive an EPR or Officer Performance Report, the ratings on the front side shouldn't be a surprise.

As an airman basic, I was blessed to have an involved supervisor. I'm not sure where I'd be today if I didn't have that "servant leader" supervisor who believed in continual feedback.