Mentoring a command chief

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
When Chief Master Sgt. Michael Morris, 22nd ARW command chief, cross trained to become a KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator in 1996, he entered the flying world, and among his aircrew became known as a 'crew dog.'

He lived a busy lifestyle, spending large amounts of time on deployments and temporary duty assignments, however, he admitted his professional development was lacking because he had no mentor.

"I spent a lot of years just having fun," said Morris. "Cross training into my current career field felt like being a [junior] Airman again. The problem was that I wasn't really learning how to be a leader."

The young NCO had less responsibility than other Airmen and had not cross paths yet with an Airman who could change his career.

While on a TDY Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, in 1996, Staff Sgt. Morris met Jim Morman, a master sergeant and fellow boom operator at the time who took Morris under his wing.

"He had natural leadership," said Morman, "all he needed was some direction." "When he became a flight supervisor and actually had people to take care of, that's when I started to push him."

Morris began to accept feedback. Morman helped him to identify his strengths and weakness and to view criticism in a positive light.

"I came out of a world where the mentorship I received was a lot of tough love," said Morris. "I could do one of two things with that tough love. I could learn from it or I could block it out and say, 'I got this.' In many cases, I just had to swallow my pride."

Morris and Morman eventually made their way to leadership positions within the 22nd Operations Group here at McConnell AFB. Morman was the group superintendant and Morris worked in the group standardization and evaluations department.

From of 2002 to 2009, Morris advanced in rank and responsibilities while he familiarized himself with Team McConnell's tanker mission.

He left in 2009 to be a squadron superintendant at Altus AFB, Ok., where he earned his final stripe.

"The key to making senior [master sergeant] and chief [master sergeant] is taking the job that no one else wanted and turning it into the job that everybody wanted, and he flourished at it," said Morman. "I swelled with pride when I saw him pin on chief."

Morris later became the 15th Operations Group superintendent, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, before returning to McConnell AFB to lead.

He feels his new position is the highlight in his career because his decisions impact McConnell AFB's entire enlisted force.

"I'd like to be able to pay forward some of the things I have learned over the course of my career, and I believe this job provides the avenues to actually do that," he said.

As command chief, he is facing a broader range of responsibilities than ever before.

"My aperture is open wider now," he said. "I'm thinking more about families, support functions, whether they're effective, whether they're meeting goals and targets. I'm focused on money, resiliency programs and making sure that all these folks have the tools and the training they need to be functional at their jobs."

While years as a superintendent helped prepare him for leadership, Morris doubts that he would have made it this far without the help of his key mentor.

"I am eternally grateful that there was somebody that I finally got to be around that said, 'you have potential,'" said Morris. "Without Morman, I think I would have continued to take it easy, maybe make a stripe or two, but probably would not be sitting where I am today. Everybody needs to be told that they have potential at some point."

It has been a long time since Morris received his rude awakening from Morman and began his role as a leader.

They still work within walking distance of each other today. Morman retired as a chief master sergeant and is now a quality auditor for the Boom Operator Weapon System Trainer here, making mentorship around the corner.