Lead from the front

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Wayne Gilbert
  • 22nd Maintenance Operations Squadron first sergeant
"Lead from the front," these four words were written to me on a baseball that was given to me by four individuals that I had the pleasure to lead into, and out of Iraq.

I had spent 14 years in the Air Force and never really knew what leading was, until I went into a hostile fire zone with 12 other Airmen. Not only did these Airmen rely on me to lead them, but I had to rely on them even more to make sure we all made it home safely.

We assembled at Camp Bullis, Texas in July 2005 for training that would open my eyes to a whole new world. I was pulled from the Air Force life and thrust into a different one. It was more Army than Air Force; it talked different and acted different. Our lead instructor, who picked us up from the airport, was a former Marine who crossed over into Air Force Security Forces and was now at our convoy school. Before we left the airport, we were handed several field manuals and told to start reading. Manuals instructed us on everything from how to conduct camp operations to how to be a leader.

We were told it didn't matter if we didn't have much leadership experience, they would give it us. Sometimes, it was more than we wanted. We were told leaders got up before their Airmen and went to bed after them. They are those who are the first ones in to work and the last ones to go home. Leaders make sure their subordinates are always taken care of with the proper gear for the conditions they face everyday. Leaders were even the last one in line for chow after their Airmen. At this point, I knew that it wasn't about me anymore, it was about those around me.

To be an effective leader, they taught us eight steps. Steps that we accomplish everyday, however, we don't realize that they are getting done. I have adapted this leadership guideline from the U.S. Army.

Here are eight simple steps to leading our fellow Airmen into battle: 

Step 1. Receive the mission
What is the mission? Is it the aircraft that has to get off the ground? Is it the cargo or personnel that need to be moved? Or is it the processing of personnel to deploy?
What is known about my enemy? Is it someone that is physically trying to stop me from completing my mission, or is it something internal? Is it fatigue? Lack of supplies? 
How will the terrain or weather affect my mission? 
What troops are available? How many personnel will I have available to complete this mission? 
How much time do I have to complete my mission? 

Step 2. Issue a warning order
At this point, you will want to give as much information as possible to those going through this with you. You need their support just as much as they need you to get through this. 

Step 3. Make a tentative plan
The leader makes an initial plan and then uses it for the final descision. 

Step 4. Start the necessary movement
This begins the preparation stage of the personnel involved with the mission. Perhaps this is the stage that begins at the start of your shift when you are issued your tools or gather your weapons in preparation for guard mount. 

Step 5. Reconnaissance
The final step before the plan is complete. The leader must review and adjust his plans based on anything from time to weather conditions. Perhaps it has to do with personnel falling out. 

Step 6. Complete the plan
The plan is now complete. It is reviewed once more to ensure it covers everything that ensures the mission is complete. 

Step 7. Issue the complete order
The leader can now issue the full order to all subordinates. Everyone must know everything the leader knows in order to complete the operation. 

Step 8. Supervise
Now is the time for leaders to ensure the mission is executed from start to finish. Wheels are set into motion, training is now done and the real work is ahead of us. Sometimes the fear of the unknown that hinders us. However, if you want to be a leader, you have to step up and take charge, no matter what level you are.

You must continue to learn all you can and make sure your Airmen know all they can. Someone has to run the convoy long after you are gone.