What does it mean to be a Senior NCO (SNCO) in the 2015 Air Force? That’s a question very much on the table these days, and currently the water cooler obsession of enlisted members across the force.
A week ago, JQP featured a crackling, some would say inspirational rant from an active duty SNCO wherein he passionately and mercilessly advanced a particular notion of what it means to hold such a position in the Air Force. He included, in bright red tones, what it also does not and/or should not mean, earning a thunderous response from the crowd.
On the heels of interminable years spent absorbing endless barrages of Orwellian Doublespeak from senior managers and their public relations staffs, straight talk is treated as premium sterling by airmen. They voraciously devour it, and that was the case with this message. Readers send it viral, catalyzing a global pandemic of long-dormant constructive dialogue. Conversations about the issue of SNCO culture and about the health of the enlisted force more generally have sprung up like scores of brush fires all over social media, mirrored by offline conversations in squadrons far and wide. The response has been nothing short of seismic, and overwhelmingly positive, with most commenters in violent agreement with the author.
But not everyone has been inspired — at least not in a positive way. Since the original piece achieved social media liftoff, I’ve received several responses from other SNCOs who disagree in principle or in particular with the original poster. It occurred to me that the audience would benefit from an alternative view, and that to provide a contrasting input might serve the discussion best by extending and complicating it in healthy ways. This is perfectly in the spirit of the JQP community.
Ironically, the best proposed response came not from a SNCO, but from a Technical Sergeant (albeit one with a line number for promotion). I’ve provided his input below for your consumption, withholding the author’s identity at his request.
I am a Technical Sergeant, with a line number. I do not claim to have all of the answers, nor have I observed every problem that most Airmen claim are plaguing our Air Force; some I have seen, but not all. By some accounts I am a “fast burner”, having been in for 11 years. I’m proud of that. I’m as excited today as I was last May when my Commander presented me with my next stripe; one that I earned, just like the SSgt and TSgt stripes before it. I make no apologies to those who feel like I haven’t been around the block, or paid as many dues as others who seem to be in a holding pattern for one reason or another.
Recently, a MSgt wrote a scathing first hand account of the ills he feels have ravaged our beloved Air Force. It has gone “viral” and has appeared on my Facebook feed more times than I can count. I’ve read it probably ten times; each time agreeing with one part of it while disagreeing with another. That’s fine. I am entitled to my opinion, just as much as the original author of the post which has captured the attention of many Airmen. At the very least, it has been the topic of conversation from flight-lines to finance offices. At it’s best, it has caused many to self reflect and ask themselves some hard questions, about their leadership style, and how they see themselves fitting into this MSgt’s definition of what a Senior NCO should be, and how they can possibly adjust their own behavior. No shame in becoming a better NCO, SNCO, Officer, or human being.
I did take exception to the immediate and full on assault of the Top 3, and (my guess is), other professional organizations that went unnamed (Full disclosure, I have served in elected positions in both AFSA and now in the Air Force Enlisted Organization). This MSgt seems to think that belonging to these organizations is a worthless way to spend your time. I respectfully disagree. These organizations provide a way for you, me, and us to grow professionally and personally, while giving back to our military and civilian communities. Why is that a problem? The Top 3 exists to provide professional development/mentorship to Airmen in both your unit and others around your respective base. Yes, there are competitive people in the Top 3, AFSA, AFA, Rising IV, etc but I fail to see why that is an issue. Are you not competitive in your work-center? Do you not set expectations and then try to exceed them, both for yourself and as a unit? YES, there are those who go about making an ass out of themselves, but we all see it, and act/react accordingly. How about instead of throwing stones, we worry about our own character and let our reputations form in other’s minds? It’s not that hard of a concept.
This MSgt also intimated that if you are concerned with Top 3 meetings (assuming he means attending a monthly meeting/volunteer event), checking boxes on your EPR (assuming he means meeting/exceeding expectations found on the EPR form/set by your supervisor), and impressing the Wing Commander (assuming he means not making a fool of your unit/duty section when Top comes by), then you CAN’T POSSIBLY BE CONCERNED WITH THE WELFARE OF THOSE YOU LEAD. This could not be further from reality; unless of course, you are incapable of multi-tasking, do not know your people well enough to sense when something is wrong and provide an ear/advice/level of appropriate action, or truly are the type of person who doesn’t give a shit. In my 11 years, I have seen more people capable of doing all of these things—check that, I have seen more people who thrive on doing all of these things, than I have seen people who don’t take care of their people, while also doing the “other” stuff. I feel like those who are beating their fists on their keyboards saying “Yes, yes this is 100% spot on!” are not able to see the forest through the trees. Sounds like a “you” problem to me, and not an Air Force culture problem. Or maybe it is? Think about it. To borrow from this MSgt…You don’t like? Get the fuck out.
Mistakes. How many do you need? In an Air Force where we are constantly drawing down for one reason or another (I’m not getting into this argument here), people need to realize that when they decide to: Drive drunk, beat their significant other, piss hot, sexually assault another person, or engage in theft/fraud/etc that they are showing themselves the door. As leaders, we help facilitate that transaction. What part of “Integrity”, “Service”, and “Excellence” supports any of these criminal activities? I’ll wait. Now, mistakes? Those are much different. Sleeping through an alarm clock, skipping a step in a T.O., insubordination…these things are fixable. Coach, Counsel, and Mentor. Do your damn job as a leader and fix the small problems before they snowball into ones that become out of control. I’m not perfect. As a somewhat new SSgt, I destroyed the confidence of an A1C in front of a room full of other people over what I now know to be an insignificant error. I still feel awful about this, but I’ve since apologized and have grown as a leader because of MY mistake. I’ve also got an LOR on my record that came from my Squadron Commander (I earned every bit of it). But, I also had a MSgt take me under his wing and help put me back on the path to success. Another MSgt stayed by my side in the hospital after my appendix ruptured. Yet another TSgt had the audacity to care enough to hear me out about the miscarriage of two of my unborn children. All while they were involved in professional organizations. Crazy, right?
Are we seriously complaining about stratifications and doing what is reasonably expected of someone who is a Senior NCO? Course 14, doing the bare minimum to earn a CCAF, being an active, visible, and deliberate leader, and someone who is able to respectfully and articulately able to lead, inspire, and challenge people? You don’t want to do what is NECESSARY to be promoted and gain the inherent authority in order to affect change at an even higher level? I hate to say it, but…Get the fuck out.
I don’t have all the answers. But, what I do have is an eagerness to serve my fellow Airmen, organization, and the people that have been charged to my care the best way I know how. The way that I was taught by the great leaders who cared enough to ensure that even a small piece of their legacy lives on through me.
I am not a Senior NCO. But, I will be soon.
Although I disagree with much of what this author has to say, I find the thoughtfulness, logic, and obvious sense of stewardship in his response impressive.
But more importantly, what do you think?