Stuff I learned as a lieutenant

  • Published
  • By Maj, Mike Stohler
  • 22nd Maintenance Squadron commander
I know everyone has their own "pearls of wisdom" out there, but I wanted to share a few from my past that remain with me today. 

Safety first
My first assignment as a maintenance officer was with the 92nd Logistics Group at Fairchild Air force Base, Wash., where I was commanded by Col. James Lemons. When the colonel assumed command of the group, he did what all good leaders do and laid out his expectations to his leadership team. There was one thing he said that stays with me to this day, and it applies to all career fields. He sat back in his chair at the head of the group conference room table and told us "Our mission is to launch airplanes on-time and safely ... and if they don't go out safe, then on-time doesn't matter."

The bottom line is, don't turn out a crummy product. At a minimum, you'll have to do it over; at worst case scenario, someone may loose their life or become seriously injured. No matter what Air Force specialty code you hold, if our jets don't function as advertised because people cut corners, then, someone doesn't get aviation gas, a medical evacuation or air support.

Get the whole story
Again, as a young lieutenant at Fairchild, a Chief Molina and I were in the maintenance flight office one day when one of our young Airmen dropped in to tell us something very important. You see, there were these girls on base, and they were telling all kinds of lies about this young Airman and some of his friends. He told us if we heard the stories, they were all lies and we shouldn't worry about it. Well, as a young lieutenant, I of course thought my troops were good guys, and the stories I hadn't heard yet must be false.

The young man left our office, and I expressed my concerns to the chief that our guys were set up. The chief just shook his head and said "there's more to the story Lt. ... just wait." There sure was. The Airman was one of three underage boneheads who had procured a six pack of beer and a "40" for two underage, dependant, teen girls. The Airmen had had the girls over to the dorms for a party.

When all was said and done, the ringleader was court martialed for conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and a host of other things. His buddies, including my Airman, all got Article 15s for various misdeeds including lying and making false official statements.

What's the lesson here? Leaders must make decisions using all available facts. The first story a leader hears is usually not completely accurate, especially when someone could get in trouble for it. Don't be afraid to dig. If you are responsible for an organization, don't blindly defend people just because they work for you. You are not helping them or the unit. You must operate on facts.

You are never alone
Finally, you are never alone in the Air Force. It may seem like it at times, particularly when you hit your first base, move to a different job or mess something up. Never forget there is someone there to talk to. They may not solve your problem, but a friendly ear can take some of the sting out of a bad situation. Be it your first sergeant or commander, your supervisor, or a friend or family member, someone is always there for you.

Most likely, these ideas are not news to everyone. They are just common sense things that have kept me pointed in the right direction so far.

I'd like to extend a hearty thanks to Team McConnell for making my command tour a great one. McConnell is a fantastic team, from my fellow squadrons to all of the staff agencies across the base that take care of my Airmen.

Most importantly, I want to thank the members of the 22nd Maintenance Squadron for hacking out the mission and looking out for each other everyday. You are a team of true professionals!