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Flexibility

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Most of us have studied the professional development guide, also known as the Air Force Handbook 1, and read about the tenets of airpower, some have even thought, “This doesn’t apply to me.”

“Flexibility allows airpower to shift from one campaign objective to another, quickly and decisively,” according to the Air Force Handbook 1. I have been able to use flexibility not in airpower, but as a tenet of teamwork, leadership and family.

Being part of a team means you have to be flexible. Coming from a special operations support squadron and being an independent duty medical technician exposed me to over 50 Air Force specialty codes, where I had to learn a little about everyone else’s job, since resources were limited.

I trained with our security forces deployed aircraft ground response element flight and learned flight deck denial techniques, close quarter battle and fly-away security basics. Most of our missions would only have DAGRE’s, loadmasters and medics in the back of an aircraft. During an infiltration and exfiltration training we interchanged our jobs.

I provided security while we were on the ground and if it turned into a casualty evacuation mission. The DAGRE’s were flexible enough to collapse back to the aircraft after take-off and become a medic. They started IV’s, checked tourniquets, and even learned how to set-up for rapid chest tube insertion for a pneumothorax.

The loadmasters would communicate medical information to the pilots and navigators, and divert to the most appropriate location to provide appropriate advanced medical care. Flexibility was key to the teams mission success, learning when to follow and lead, is a tenet of leadership.

To be a good leader you have to recognize when to be a follower, and to be a good follower you have to know when to lead. This flexibility is required to execute a successful mission. I was assigned to the 22nd Medical Group’s flight medicine clinic a year ago. I had not worked in a medical group for about 12 years and never in flight medicine, so I realized I had to be flexible in my leadership style.

Upon learning about flight medicine, I had to defer to my awesome team of technicians; they were the subject matter experts that knew exactly how to run the clinic. If I tried to lead clinic operations it would have led to a disaster, so I let them run with it and teach me in the process.

I did step in to lead when I needed too, giving them top-cover, refining enlisted performance reports and decoration writing skills, and working to solve their manning issues—skills I have been able to develop and refine as a senior noncommissioned office.

Using flexibility to balance leadership and followership is a tough act and difficult to master, but once you have these skills you can apply them to the Air Force and your family life. Family is important and you have to remain flexible for both the Air Force and your family. I was fortunate enough to work with an Air Force team that understood the importance of your personal family.

In special operations it was common to wake up in your own bed that morning and be sleeping in a cot downrange that night. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving of 2015, three missions were tasked to leave that weekend, which required three medics and only three medics were available. My wife and I had planned my daughter’s 4th birthday for Saturday. One mission would leave Friday and two would leave Saturday morning.

I had only been home at this point for my daughter’s birth and had missed all her birthdays, but it’s these sacrifices you and your family understand will happen when you apply for a special operations position. The plan was for me to leave early Saturday morning, missing yet another birthday.

Later that day my flight commander told me that our squadron commander wanted to talk to me. He asked me about what plans I was missing for the weekend and I told him, he said, “You’ve been gone most of the year, with temporary duty assignments and deployments. Catch the C-130 in Germany on Sunday, drop off your gear with the aircrew today and fly commercial to Stuttgart early Sunday morning—since the C-130 wouldn’t go forward until Sunday night.”

I was able to enjoy my daughter’s birthday and developed a sense of family and comradery with my unit. The flexibility displayed by my commander between the Air Force mission and family life taught me to take a break when you can and foster that same atmosphere wherever the Air Force decides to send me.

Flexibility is not only a tenet of air power, but a tenet that everyone can use in everyday situations. Remaining flexible will make you a better Airman, leader, follower and family member and truly allow airpower to shift from one campaign to another quickly and decisively.