NCOs … you make a difference

  • Published
  • By Col. Ron Langford
  • 22nd Operations Group commander
Congratulations to the 144 Senior Airmen from Team McConnell selected for promotion to staff sergeant.

The Aug. 20 promotion announcement was outstanding news for all those selected, and it was also a banner day for all those in command here. It's widely known our wing needs more NCOs to lead in many shops around the base. In my view, the future success of this wing, and the Air Force, rests on the shoulders of young men and women who wear staff sergeant and technical sergeant chevrons.

I firmly believe NCOs have the toughest jobs in the Air Force. At home they are our 24/7, first line of leadership. In that capacity, they are tasked with the daily maintenance of good order and discipline. Deployed, they make hard decisions at the point where strategy meets reality, linking commanders' intent to the actions required to make the mission happen ... often in a split second.

Our Air Force faces challenges today unlike any in our past. Never before have we been so widespread across the globe, with a deployment rate consistently on the increase, fighting an ever more, elusive enemy. Never before has there been more potential for our NCO leaders to determine the success of our force.

As Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, stated in the November 2007 issue of Leatherneck magazine, "In Iraq and Afghanistan ... we truly live in the era of the 'strategic corporal,' where tactical action by a noncommissioned officer may have strategic consequences."

This statement rings just as true for the NCO professionals we have in the Air Force today.

As a military structure, the NCO corps, has a proud tradition that some scholars date back to the centurions of the Roman legion. Roman history characterizes the NCO as being a very experienced veteran who is a great source of insight on how to conduct one's self on the battlefield.

Today, we rely on our NCOs to be the voice of experience to young Airmen enduring multiple deployments, supporting a wide variety of overseas contingency operations.

Rudyard Kipling, an early 20th century British author, once called the NCO corps, "the backbone of the Army."

In fact, at the time of the Hundred Years War, NCOs were drawn almost exclusively from the upper ranks of society. In those days, there was almost no interaction between officers, who were predominately aristocrats and the enlisted foot soldiers, who came from the lower classes. Therefore, the NCO played a critical role as a liaison between the two groups. In today's Air Force, we do enjoy much more interaction between our officer and the enlisted corps, but squadron NCOs are still the essential link in supervision and mentoring - as they work daily to make the mission happen.

As a young 2nd lieutenant, I had the good fortune of being under the care of three amazing NCOs. hey were Sergeants Todd Salzman, James Hill and Brett Clark. These three NCOs instilled in my mind the image of what a professional, competent and dedicated military member looks like. Sergeant Salzman was the epitome of a polished professional. He was never out of line in any aspect of his life. He set the example of a military professional for me , an example I've strived to emulate ever since.
He and I have come a long way in the past 23 years. Today, Sergeant Salzman is a chief master sergeant and is currently serving as command chief of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Sergeant James Hill was the resident expert at anything he did. He always worked hard and knew the right answers to everything associated with aircraft or enlisted military life. For me, he modeled technical expertise. Sergeant Hill is also now a chief master sergeant. He's about to retire as the chief boom operator of the 174th Air Refueling Squadron, Sioux City, Iowa Air National Guard.

Sergeant Brett Clark was the boisterous, direct, no-fear NCO every squadron needs. He asked the right questions, and ensured leadership was doing the right things for his Airmen. For me, Sergeant Clark illustrated how every young officer and enlisted person has to hold his leadership accountable. Sergeant Clark has excelled in his military career as well. He's gone on to get a commission, and became a major this past year. I'm sure he's still asking the tough questions.

I was lucky to have such great NCO mentors early in my career. Take it from me and the older NCOs ... you do make a difference. Take the NCO's charge to heart. Take care of those under your care. If you see an issue, take corrective action, and provide good constructive feedback to your superiors, communicate, communicate, and communicate. Give empathy where needed, not apathy. Be a team player, on and off duty. Be consistent with your treatment of all those in your care. Make education a priority. Finally, take pride in your appearance, and at all times, present the image of a professional noncommissioned officer!