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Making Time for Your Airmen

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

I originally wrote this commentary in 2013, and updates have found their way into the base papers at my two previous duty stations as I departed to my next assignments.  In reviewing this message it seems relevant to re-visit as it is easy to forget among the demands competing for our attention.  As I prepare to depart Barksdale, it is my sincere hope this message resonates with leaders at all levels, as it is our duty to care for our Airmen.

No matter how often somebody states “time goes quickly,” or “make the most of the time you have,” generally speaking, people tend not to seriously consider statements like these for their true value.  I have been an Airman for 25 years.  Yet it seems like yesterday I was standing in the airport saying goodbye to my family, on the way to Basic Military Training.  My time in the Air Force has flown by like an F-22 Raptor past the Wright Flyer, and today I find myself wondering “Where did it all go?”  I mention this hoping you will understand why I chose this topic for the Warrior as I depart Barksdale; make the best of the time you have, and also protect your Airmen’s time!

Too often we look back at an event or situation and wish for more time.  It is in our nature to scrutinize ourselves and figure out how we could have done things differently or better.  Subsequently, we tend to make rationalizations about how little time we had.  Personally, I wish I would have paid better attention to the people who told me “there will never be enough time, so place value in the precious amount you have.”  Instead, I have had to learn the hard way like a lot of others.  It is imperative we remember this as we move to positions of leadership.  Our Airmen are pulled in several directions; forced to wrestle with life’s demands, personally and professionally.  So much is asked of them, yet they continually deliver solid results, but at what cost?  Quite often they are sacrificing time with family and friends, or other opportunities in life, to keep up with what leaders ask of them.  Setting high expectations is not a bad thing, but when those expectations become too lofty and conflicts arise, many Airmen need our guidance to show them how to best use their time.  When that happens, be there for them.

It is important for leaders at all levels to take a hard look at what we have our Airmen doing.  Don’t just do a “touch and go” and hope things will magically become better because you showed your face in the work center.  Instead, ask questions to find out what a day in the life of your Airmen is like.  Allow them the opportunity, on their turf, to explain some of the things taking up their time.  You may be surprised at what you hear.  Aside from daily tasks, there are numerous other requirements competing for their time, including (but not limited to) the multitude of mobility and ancillary training events we are expected to maintain.  You may hear about their frustrations with work, family, friends, school, life, etc. This is a good moment to remember that the extraordinary men and women serving in our Air Force deal with normal issues every day, on top of all that is asked of them as Airmen.  This may also be the perfect opening for you to provide some guidance on time management and organizational skills.  Or, you may learn about a “requirement” that doesn’t make sense and is begging to be deleted.

Accomplishing your unit’s mission will always be a priority.  Leaders should provide Airmen with their expectations, enable them to maintain their training and readiness, and strive to give them sufficient time to regenerate.  It is our responsibility to look for “time traps” and keep our Airmen from falling victim to them.  This is not easy.  It takes effective communication at all levels and ironically it also takes time.  In my opinion, Airmen of all ranks are grateful for these efforts when they are genuine.  In turn, the mission is accomplished more safely and efficiently, and our Airmen are afforded the opportunity to spend time with family and friends, while simultaneously allowing them to reset for the next task. 

As you read this, I will be on my way to my next assignment.  I will remember many great things about Barksdale Air Force Base, but above all the amazing people with whom I served will have a special place in my thoughts.  Thank you for your professionalism, and for making this tour memorable.  I had a great time!