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Where do you fit into the big picture?

  • Published
  • By Col. Alan Hess
  • 310 Airlift Squadron
Here's a quick story for you. 

In 2006, Senior Airman Phillip M. King was leading a convoy on a quiet street in Ebrahimkhel, just north of Kandahar, when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) landed near his Humvee, followed by a hail of machine-gun fire from a nearby fortified compound. He moved his vehicle to block the rest of the convoy from torrents of bullets, and he fired back with his M4 and grenade launcher. Despite suffering a concussion from an RPG blast, King continued to expose himself to enemy fire even as he directed the aim of the Afghan soldiers. Shortly after clearing enemy positions, King discovered another ambush site, where the Taliban had pinned down five Afghan soldiers. King rammed a truck stuck in a wadi, allowing the soldiers to escape. 

The Airman then helped establish a perimeter to more effectively beat back the enemy forces. At this point, the team phoned in air support. For 20 more minutes, however, the convoy continued fighting as they waited for the planes. Shortly before support arrived, King again braved enemy fire as he marked the targets for the bombers. The firepower from the aircraft destroyed the Taliban, and ended the battle. 

In all, King's actions helped eliminate 20-25 Taliban, while saving over a dozen Afghans. His heroism earned him the Bronze Star with Valor in July 2007. 

Most of us don't have days like that at work. Is your daily work important to this country? Without knowing what your job is, I can tell you that it undoubtedly is. Worldwide operations in the global war on terror require a strong, capable Air Force to ensure this country can carry out its goals. That strong Air Force requires professional personnel in dozens of different AFSCs with hundreds of different duty titles. But not all of us can be in those "tip of the spear" jobs that are the most visible in the war effort, like SrA King. If you are not right on the front line, it might be hard to see the contribution you are making to our national security and the freedom of others around the world. 

Over the years, I have encountered individuals or even entire units that didn't function well, as I am sure you have. Frequently I've found that part of the problem was that the personnel involved didn't understand the importance of their particular job to the overall mission. Admittedly, when you are buried in some of the details of your job--daily paperwork and emails, end of year reports, studying for upgrade training, etc.--it's not easy to see your connection to the big picture. 

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet retired General Robert "Dutch" Huyser, former CINCMAC and air mobility legend. There's not enough room in this column to fully describe what a great American he was; look up his biography sometime. I observed that as he talked with military members he met, he told them that America was proud of their service and that "civilians" like him appreciated the work they were doing. He made it a point to ask exactly what each person's primary duty was, and effortlessly highlighted how it contributed to the overall success of the Air Force. Working a HQ staff job at the time, I couldn't see how America could care less about my efforts on the stack of paperwork in my inbox. After listening to General Huyser, I've since realized that everything I worked on had some effect on others in the Air Force and their ability to perform better. 

Look closely at your job and you'll see that a basic purpose of your daily work is to enable other military members to do their job well. Medical personnel focus on maintaining the health of our Airmen. Mission support personnel handle innumerable daily tasks that allow others, like maintenance and operations personnel, to do their jobs focused on the airfield, aircraft and the flying mission. MacDill's flying mission provides travel for senior military decision-makers and refueling for other flying units worldwide, including the bombers that supported SrA King. All of us fill some kind of support role to keep the Air Force running smoothly and, in the "big picture," a competent Air Force fills a large support role in the entire joint warfighting effort. Your part in this chain I've described means you are a part of the Bronze Star earned that day in Afghanistan. 

So, what can you do to make this country more secure and help fight this global war? The simple answer is: do your job well. Not just adequately--be the best in the Air Force at your particular job, learn the regulations, improve the processes, ace the exams, train your people. Leaders at all levels, identify the "point of the sword" for your part of the mission (that's in the PDG; yes, officers read it, too!) Although we are part of the most capable Air Force in history, it is relatively small and getting smaller. As you have seen the past few years with career field cuts and retraining, there aren't really any jobs left that aren't truly required to make the service's mission work. 

Rest assured that whatever job you have been placed in, the leadership at MacDill, and the Air Force as a whole, are absolutely counting on you to do that job in an excellent manner. Try everyday to learn something new about your part in making the mission happen, here at MacDill and worldwide. 

Commanders and supervisors--follow General Huyser's example and make it a priority to help those in your unit understand where they fit in the "big picture." Make the connection between the tasks your folks do daily and the overall security of our nation. It's easy to be proud of the work our Air Force does across the globe--if your Airmen have pride in their part of that work, excellence will surely follow.