Chief Master Sgt. Michael Dyer
50th Network Operations Group superintendent
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Last summer, when I found out I had been selected to become the 50th Network Operations Group superintendent, my wife and I had to make some tough choices. Do I go to Colorado by myself, as I was at Fort Meade, Maryland, and maintain our home in Texas where my wife worked? Or do we sell the house in Texas since both of our sons have moved out with our oldest joining the Air Force (Security Forces) and our youngest starting college at the University of Arizona? Yet another choice would be, do we rent a home in Colorado or buy another home while still waiting to sell our house in Texas?
By the title of this article, an initial thought is this could be about living choices in the local community, to rent or to own. However, this is more about choices that could be applied in any aspect of life and a leadership philosophy. This philosophy has been developed through experiences during my almost 27-year Air Force career as well as books from academia in the pursuit of more leadership fundamentals and educational goals during my career.
What is rentership versus ownership? To me, this is the level of effort put into a job, career, family or simply all facets of our daily lives. In a housing scenario, if something happens to a home we are renting, it could be viewed as someone else’s problem to deal with (the landlord or apartment manager). If we own our home, everything that happens with that home is our problem whether we like it or not. We can choose to do nothing and most often the problem(s) will get worse. We can apply these same choices to our everyday lives, and I advocate for ownership.
Ownership on the job can be displayed by the pride someone takes in what they do. When looking at our jobs, do we know the “why” we do things, or just the “what” we do and “how” we do them? In most cases the “why” only comes when getting an in-depth understanding of the equipment or systems we work on or with. As a young maintainer working on EC-130 aircraft, I was told by my supervisor I needed to know the theory of operation of all the equipment I fixed because if I didn’t know how it was supposed to work when it was not broken, how would I know where to start troubleshooting when it did break? By understanding how the equipment worked, coupled with the processes employed to repair the equipment, there were some areas for improvement identified. Today, this would be called innovation. We created an ability to repair some system components locally versus sending the system back to the depot, which ultimately saved the Air Force money. We could have just continued what we were doing without changes. That would be rentership, or maintaining the status quo.
Throughout my entire career, I’ve employed the concept of ownership to strive to learn everything about the system I was maintaining (tactical communications, MQ-1 Predator Remotely Piloted Aircraft and various intelligence platforms) and find ways to make it better for the person who would eventually replace me. Additionally, I would grow my replacement. The latter was drilled in to me during my combat readiness training when I was assigned to a tactical communications unit in Italy. Everyone was trained so we could do multiple jobs within our sections, eliminating gaps when we were in the field should we experience losses (personnel and equipment). The mission will always continue. This emphasized the need to be process driven and process oriented. If we do things from memory, we cannot adequately train our replacement and, god forbid, if something happens to us, can lead to recreating things if we take our knowledge to the grave.
Our Air Force has continually gotten smaller since I’ve joined in 1992 (over 600,000 Airmen in 1992) due to technological advancements and budget constraints, but our missions have increased over this same 27-year period. I challenge you to own what you do every day and take pride in everything you do. Find the time to learn the “whys” behind the “whats” and the “hows” of what you do, and then find ways to make what you do better for those coming after you. Don’t just maintain the status quo and leave things to be looked at or fixed tomorrow.