By Maj. Adam Morgan
50th Security Forces Squadron commander
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the celebration of the Airman Leadership School graduation. My wife and I were able to meet with four of our Airmen and their spouses, and observed a literal transition of more than 40 senior airmen and staff sergeants from their roles of the reliable Airman to that of the responsible supervisor.
Utilizing a 20th century metaphor from the Korean War, the keynote speaker at ALS referred to this transition as the point of no return. As a commander, I do agree, but I would like to offer some additional clarification. Though this transition is necessary, it is also a positive one, and these new supervisors and future noncommissioned officers in charge are agents of positive change, vertical progress- to quote a fairly well known English author C.S. Lewis, moving “Onward and upward!”
Therefore, new supervisor, take charge of your post. For those who are Defenders, or those who have ever worked guard or sentry duty, you will recognize this is the first phrase of the first general order. When I was a flight commander, one of my operations officers repacked the concept of what a “post” is and translated it to be anything within your realm of responsibility. Everyone has a post to take charge of, a role to fill. So what is that role, supervisor? As a commander, my expectation is for you to look up, down and around. Find out where your unit is going, discover your commander’s intent. As a unit commander, I look to our wing commander, the 14th Air Force commander, and the Air Force Space Command strategic plans, and nest my unit in their lines of effort. In the same way, you as the supervisor need to discover where your unit is going and how to complement that direction by mobilizing everything which is within your span of control. You are now “a company man.” Take accountability of the resources put under your charge, material and human, and ensure they are fit to fight. Be studious and know the Department of Defense, Air Force, and local guidelines which govern your programs and operations. When there are gaps or risk, up-channel them along with recommended solutions for command prioritization. One year in command at Schriever AFB and I am still identifying resource and manpower gaps which I previously didn’t know about as well as the corrective actions to fix them. That is all because I have NCOs who continue to engage processes; I have NCOs who evaluate their programs. One of the best parts of taking charge of your post is being the one involved in fixing the problems you identify.
Be the intrusive supervisor. My SNCOs know how I love “piggy-backs” (not so much), but I will violate my own rule by pigging backing off what I have recently heard from Chief Boston Alexander, 50th Space Wing command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Treveon Everson, 4th Space Operations Squadron superintendent and my own Master Sgt. Michael Veale, 50th SFS first sergeant, because what they say is so important. We need intrusive wingmen because there are hurting Airmen out there, there are Airmen needing guidance. This is where the intrusive supervisor splits off from the intrusive wingman role, because while the wingman acts as the sensor for issues, supports and buffers the affected Airman, the supervisor leads and takes action. An intrusive supervisor offers more than “positive thoughts and prayers,” they develop a plan and see it through.
Once you are given Airmen to supervise, establish expectations by holding formal feedback soon after taking charge of your post. This is intrusive supervision as well. Anyone who has been involved in administrative actions can tell you this step is critical in establishing expectations and providing coverage for future engagement. As a commander, I take special delight in seeing good supervision. Airmen are held accountable and in the same vein have a stable morale system. Things may not always be great for all Airmen, but there is a process of care and engagement in place to ensure needs are met.
Lastly, ready yourself for the next step in leadership. As put by Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Harold G. Moore: “A squad leader must be ready to command a platoon or the company.” This may vary depending on your organization, but translated this largely means the element leader being ready, mentally ready to to lead a flight; a flight leader readying him or herself to lead operations; operations leaders developing to lead squadrons. In these times of planning for execution of wartime tasks in a multi-domain environment, it’s easy to look only at resource limitations, or how technology will affect our wartime effectiveness. But war is a human endeavor, and the primary purpose of our adversary’s advancements in technology and tactics is to affect our command and control, to cut the head off from the body. Looking forward, you may be called upon to take a leadership role faster than you were expecting. Get ready for it, look for opportunities to branch out and improve your understanding of how a unit works. Figure out how to maintain continuity of operations when the enemy or events cut off your umbilical to command.
This transition is truly a point of no return. But there is no reason to go back. Keep growing. You, supervisor, are uniquely suited to carry this Air Force onward and upward.