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Learning to lead; leading to serve

Capt. George Noah

Capt. George Noah

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Maintenance officers are a rare breed to say the least.

First of all, we are few and far between. The enlisted to officer ratio in many maintenance organizations is typically 100 to 1 or less. To give you a local perspective, the 22nd Maintenance Group has over 1,200 active duty personnel and only 18 officers.

Maintenance officer positions among the company grade ranks range from flight commanders, officers in charge and operations officers. Field grade maintenance officers typically become commanders and some majors actually command twice before they make lieutenant colonel.

New maintenance officers are thrown directly into leadership positions in flights or aircraft maintenance units. Phrases like "hit the ground running" or "drinking from a fire hose" ring true for these lieutenants louder than almost any other career field. Maintenance lieutenants are typically tasked with leading flights consisting of 50 to 200 enlisted personnel or charged with running aircraft maintenance units as large at 350 personnel. Although they are generally guided by experienced senior enlisted members, the level of management and leadership experience gained at a young age is unmatched.

This experience becomes paramount when preparing for the next phase of an officer's career: command. Unlike many other Air Force Specialty Codes, most, if not all, career 21As will command an organization at some point. It is for this reason a young officer must be fully prepared to lead in order for his or her organization to succeed.

Some aspects of commanding a maintenance organization include, but are not limited to:

· Managing dozens of programs
· Tracking training of all members assigned
· Constant disciplinary actions
· Endless enlisted performance reports
· Numerous awards packages
· Maintenance production meetings
· Resource management
· Maintenance scheduling

Some of these programs may seem common, but leading a large organization typically means dealing with an exponential number of issues at any given point.

The 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Peyton, and Maj. Dale Williquette, 22nd Maintenance Squadron commander, are both charged with leading large maintenance organizations. Peyton's squadron is one of the largest squadrons in the Air Force. She began her command as a major, which is a huge responsibility. Maintenance squadrons across the Air Force are typically very large and provide direct on and off equipment maintenance to support the flying operation. Capt. Shane Sheffield is the officer in charge of Maintenance Operations. As a captain, he is currently leading what was formerly a squadron. Every maintenance officer in the 22nd MXG is filling a critical leadership position due to the limited number assigned.

Many of us execute this every day with focus, aptitude and persistence. I have met many talented officers who are extraordinary leaders; however, this all turns hollow without one important mission -- to serve the enlisted force.

In my opinion, maintenance officers are created for two reasons: to generate combat air power and to serve the enlisted force. The term "serve" can be used in many different ways, but an officer can and will make or break an organization by the relationships formed with his or her enlisted members. It is our challenge every day to meet the mission while placing the concerns of our Airmen first.