Commentary by Maj. James Atchley
50th Contracting Squadron commander
Every morning when I come into work, I try to communicate with people face to face. I make it a point to say hello to those I pass in the hallways. Some days, I get a happy greeting of “good morning, how are you?” and some days I get a look that could make you tremble because someone has not had their morning kickstart of coffee. No matter who it is or how we try to communicate, there always seem to be difficulties. Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.”
Last month, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel and talk to our young NCOs who were completing their NCO Professional Education seminar. One of the things we discussed was the communication difficulty we have with one another. I talked about how we are separated by generations of technological advances. I admitted that my ability to use my “smart-phone” is limited, but my daughter who is now 18 (the age of our newest Airmen) has been using one for the past five years. As a result, she can do amazing things with the device. The generation of NCOs we were talking with is also competent with technology and routinely uses it to communicate. The NCOs had plenty to say about communicating with each other and their senior leadership. Although they communicate through a different medium, ultimately they just wanted people to listen and understand them. Then there was the senior NCO and squadron commander generation on the panel who remembered the days when we did not have cell phones, computers, or GPS devices in our vehicles. We had to rely on maps made of paper, calling before you left for a trip and calling once you arrived five hours later to let your boss know you were OK. To make a phone call, we had to use the single pay phone in the hallway of the dormitories that cost 25 cents every time. The point I am trying to make is some of us grew up using different means to communicate. Sometimes we tend to expect everyone to know what we are trying to say, but we do not always know the correct way or language to communicate it.
Here is an example of how this can affect us operationally. When young Airmen need to communicate, they tend to just fire off an e-mail and expect an answer back. In the generation of e-mail and text messaging, this seems like the most efficient way to communicate. On the other hand, a chief or senior officer may tend to want to have that face-to-face discussion and not rely on the technology as much. In either case, the parties are trying to communicate a message well, but if someone from my generation does not respond to e-mail quickly, it sends the message to an Airman that a person does not care. In actuality, the older member might be waiting to have that conversation in person. I challenged that group of NCOs to help close the gap between the new Airmen and the senior NCOs and officers by helping translate what we say to those below and explain what they mean to those above. With effective communication, hopefully we can begin to understand what it takes to make this mission successful. I would also like to challenge the more senior groups myself included to work on learning how to use new technology so we can exchange information through that common system defined by Webster . All of you young NCOs and officers, keep up your great work and continue to make your leadership listen to you because you and those below you are the future of our Air Force.