Commentary by Lt. Col. Chadwick Igl
3rd Space Operations Squadron commander
In today’s fiscally constrained environment, individual responsibility and awareness have become more important than ever. The benefits the Air Force has provided in the past are being cut or modified and the individual now must work more aggressively to develop the whole person concept. So, how can each of us capitalize on opportunities available during sequestration? To ensure you are not left behind, I believe there are three critical responsibilities that will continue to grow officers, civilians and enlisted focusing on the total person concept. They include personal development, professional development and individual development. As I walk through each area of responsibility, you will notice one common theme, mentorship. Both up and down the chain, the way we communicate, promote opportunities and adapt to the current environment enables us to continue making a difference in the jobs we do and the nation we serve. Mentorship is one of the greatest tools we have to overcome the challenges that lie ahead and will reward those who utilize and practice mentorship with a stronger path toward achieving the total person concept, which we value so much in the Air Force.
The first AOR we must all continue to take advantage of is personal development. When we were young, personal development was encouraged initially by our parents when they sent us to preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school. During these formative years, we laid the foundation of learning necessary for us to set and achieve life goals that culminated in that wonderful day where we earned our high school diploma. I recently attended my nephew’s high school graduation and was encouraged by the enthusiasm and optimism of the graduating class. What amazing opportunities they have to make a difference in the world. While military members represent only 1 percent of America, each of you has chosen to make a difference by serving in the military. I commend your choice. Having made this decision, you have also made the choice to continue your personal development through the many opportunities available to service members. Educational goals ranks as one of the top reasons members chose to join the military and our Air Force has empowered our personnel to achieve educational goals because it makes them better leaders in the Air Force. As leaders, we must be mentors and encourage those around us to consider education plans within the new fiscally constrained environment. Encouraging our personnel, coworkers and even friends to visit the education center and work toward Community College of the Air Force, bachelor and master degrees will make the Air Force a more informed service and develops us personally.
Our professional development is also in our immediate AOR. With the drastic reduction in temporary duty funds this fiscal year, commanders at all levels have pursued alternative means to achieve mission success. Within my own organization, we have held video teleconferences for program reviews to bring together diverse mission partners that were previously held at TDY locations. Holding a technical meeting via VTC is not the easiest of challenges, but in the current environment it is an acceptable short-term solution. While professional development via VTC is also difficult, the Air Force has already taken steps to improve distance learning. Air University has embraced online learning and offers four online courses on leadership and development through the Leadership Development Program that are self-paced and available for junior officers and civilians. Additionally, Air War College and Air Command and Staff College recently transitioned to an online blackboard and electronic curriculum system that requires enrolled students to download self-study materials. Course 14 for senior enlisted professional military education is also available as an online computer-based course. For Guard and Reserve enlisted members, you’ll find that Course 3 and Course 15 are viable options through Air University to allow you to earn Airman Leadership School and NCO Academy credit. Lastly, I’m also encouraged by the amount of online computer-based trainings offered for Air Force career fields. While I am not the expert in all career fields and the different CBTs, I do know that every organizations has a training manager available who should be an excellent mentoring resource to allow all of us to pursue professional development offerings. There’s that critical resource again — our mentors.
In the last AOR, I’d like to address concerns with individual development. While the Air Force has always been a great place to pursue both personal and professional development opportunities, I can honestly say that it does not matter if the Air Force budget doubles if each individual does not step up to the plate. As members of the Air Force, each one of us has the distinct privilege to make a difference by being a mentor. Being a mentor is not a job, although it is actually a part of something that every one of us does every day. For those of you with kids, mentor is not one of the jobs that your kids want to be when they grow up. Kids want to be fireman, astronauts, doctors, musicians, singers, or the president. And we encourage our kids to reach for the stars and be a doctor or a fireman, a singer and maybe even the president, but what we are really doing is encouraging them to pursue their dreams and we mentor them by the way we act, dress, talk and interact with others. We are setting standards and mentoring the people we work with both good and bad. Good mentors take the time to focus on individual development by creating experiences that can be shared by many, whether it is starting a professional development book reading brown bag lunch club or bringing peers or subordinates in to talk about course corrections in leadership. I recently read the book, “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand and it was an amazing story about Louis Zamperini, a World War II bombardier who persevered through a multitude of challenges in the Pacific theater of war. I’d love to provide details, but that would ruin the story — you really need to read it to absorb and reflect on the challenges he faced and how he was able to overcome and persevere. Through professional reading, you can learn, reflect and then impart lessons learned to others as well as encourage professional reading when you mentor. Individual development is so important because it is a part of us personally, professionally, at work, at home and in the community.
Being part of something larger than yourself is one of the greatest privileges of being in the Air Force. As you take on the responsibilities of personal, professional and individual development, the most important question you must ask is, “Have you made a difference and mentored anyone today?”