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Preserving our 'brand'

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Leslie Maher
  • 6th Operations Support Squadron commander
If you haven't heard, we may not be executing an AirFest this year due to budget constraints. AirFests aren't just about touring the different aircraft and being thrilled by aerial demonstrations. More importantly, AirFests provide the Air Force and other services a focused opportunity to recruit future service members and engage the community through personal contact. Our goal is to leave a lasting impression with the community, with the hopes of enticing the youth to consider us for their future and to continue garnering tangible support that enhances the lives of our Airmen, Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen.

As a commander, I absolutely value the opportunity the AirFest gives me to show off my Airmen to Tampa and its visitors. However, over the last year, I have found that I don't really need to wait for an AirFest to see that the Air Force's "brand" of leadership is already making an impression outside the gate. I have seen this firsthand during my time as a member of the 2013 Leadership Tampa class. Here are a few examples.

In Ybor City, retired Col. Jack Evans leads the Hillsborough Community College Workforce Center. He proposed, planned, budgeted and executed a train-to-work program that now produces this city's next generation of automotive specialists, firemen, police officers, and, soon, welders. In every class, he has infused the leadership and management techniques he learned throughout his 30 years of service as both a non commissioned officer and an officer.

The industry demand for his graduates is enviable - 91 percent placement of his students by their graduation date, 100 percent overall. In addition, he continues to engage the local industries to understand what expertise shortfalls exist and then builds the coursework to train Tampa's citizens for those jobs. This hero is literally putting Tampa to work, using the exact same model we in the Air Force use to train our Airmen.

At Plant High School, Coach Robert Weiner asks his football players to report in to his office every morning at 7:15 a.m. This roll call is so that he can lay eyes on each of his teenage players. If they don't check in, he follows up to find out why. Accountability, commitment and adhering to standards are key to the coach's program of keeping the school's youth on a productive and inspirational path.

At the Faulkenburg Road Jail, members of the Stageworks Theater Group from Channelside are engaging with younger inmates to seek productive ways of changing their destructive behavior. These resiliency classes, as they are called, work to build trust and communication with mentors through the use of acting techniques. This engagement has aided counselors and other helping agencies to get to the core of inmate's problems. It has also enabled the inmates to tackle their rampant drug and mental issues - issues that affect over 78 percent of the jail's population.

These three examples are just a mere sampling of what I have observed through my experience in the Leadership Tampa 13 class. I have encountered personnel and organizations that are working hard to better their community for the present and future citizens of Tampa and we - the Air Force and other services - are the example they cite as their inspiration, using the same core values we have been living by for decades. In short, we present a lasting influence every time we engage our partners outside the fence.

Our "brand" of leadership and citizenship is required to maintain standards for mission accomplishment. The public is seeing that our brand of leadership is critical in keeping alive the human connection as we become more advanced in technology. Reaching out and actually talking and touching individuals and their families has not been replaced by Facebook or email, it has actually become more necessary for the community's survival and growth.

As Airmen, realize that the community engagement we may lose if the AirFest is indeed canceled will require us as an Air Force family to continue to seek out smaller scale, yet effective, opportunities in the future. It is vital, now more than ever, that we remain involved and advocate our "brand" of leadership in a myriad of small ways (public affairs tours, engagement with the Chambers of Commerce, volunteering in our community's worthwhile causes, coaching sports, etc.). Most importantly, we have to preserve our "brand" by tackling those issues that endanger it (sexual assault, DUIs, reckless behavior, etc.).

Don't underestimate the example you present...we are the models others are living by.