The day I found out I made Staff Sergeant was an extremely reflective day. I had only been in the Air Force 3 years and 4 months. They never tell you how quickly it can happen. You never really think it happens that quick. I remember vividly how the Commander broke the news to me.
I was working in the Commander’s office at the time. It was about 5 minutes before the Chief, the Shirt and the Commander were about to go around the squadron to congratulate all the new SSgt selects. About 0755 the Commander called me into his office. He said, “Can you take a look at this?(pointing to his computer screen).” I said, “Yes, Sir.” He had walk around his desk to his computer screen. He pointed at our evaluation program EMS and said, “I can’t seem to get this link to work. I can’t have a SSgt breaking things.” It didn’t dawn on me what he said. I simple replied, “Oh, no, did I accidentally break the link? I can get that fixed.” At this point, Chief, Shirt and one of the Flight CCs were standing in his door way looking at me. It still didn’t hit me yet. He repeated, “I can’t have a STAFF SERGEANT breaking things.” The light bulb went off! I immediately responded with, “Are you kidding me?” He said laughing, “Nope, congratulations SSgt!”
At this point I was a little embarrassed as I didn’t catch on to the joke they were pulling on me, but I was so focused on that link error that I was blinded by how he was referring to me. Staff Sergeant. Wow. You hear people say they saw their life flash before their eyes in a near death experience and this was almost the case except what I saw was a rush of moments from BMT to that moment. You’re probably wondering what the point is. It’s coming…
Although SSgt came quick for me, learning to be a leader has been an every day experience and challenge since I arrived at my first duty station. I strive to learn what it means to be a leader, ways I can lead and how I can help others be a leader. Fortunately I had a great team of leaders helping me as I progressed from an A1C to SrA and on to SSgt. I put a lot of work in to make SrA BTZ, which should be every Airman’s goal upon arriving at their first duty station.
I’ve heard recent new SSgt selects make comments such as, “I made SSgt, time to learn to be a leader,” or, “I made SSgt today, time to start learning to write an EPR.” My response to everyone who hasn’t made SSgt and even to those who are NCOs, if any of you think that when you make the NCO tier or SNCO tier that it’s time to start learning to lead, you’re simply wrong. When you make NCO and you haven’t started to develop leadership skills, you’re late. At that point, you’re catching up. To make a long story short, if you’re a AB, Amn, A1C or SrA, or an NCO now is the time to build a foundation of leadership not later. It doesn’t begin in ALS or NCOA, it began day one of BMT. As an NCO you’re more than likely supervising Airman, they should be learning from you and you should be cultivating an environment to enhance your Airman’s leadership skills. After all, they are your replacement! Lead them and lead them well.
If you’re in the Junior Enlisted Tier, whether you’re doing four or six years and getting out, leadership skills will carry with you in every career you pursue. The civilian sector is building leaders just the same. Take leadership to heart and don’t wait till it’s too late, begin now. If you’re a new Airman and you’re not sure where to start building your leadership skills here are a 4 ways to help you start right…
1. Find a mentor. There are many leaders around you who would be glad to give you advice when you need it, listen to you when you need it and guide you in your career. Mentors are great influences. They have experience and know the ropes. Learn from them every moment you can and sit down with them as often as you can.
2. Seek Professional Development. Each base has programs that help you advance your skills. Professional Development covers a wide range of topics, from finances, time management, writing, speaking and many more topics. Find those events and participate. Grow your knowledge.
3. Join a Professional Organization. The Airman Counsel, NCO Counsels are excellent places to share knowledge from your peers. Think of this like an open forum. Be actively sharing advice and in all reality, what works and what doesn’t work. These organizations are there to help you develop. I highly recommend joining an base organization.
4. Read leadership books. There are countless books on leadership. All have different perspectives on leading, but you’ll find many commonalities between each of them.
There are many other ways to grow your leadership skills, it is not limited to just these four. Seek what’s available to you and don’t forget, the internet has many resources as well.
Don’t wait to develop your leadership skills. Start today…
SSgt Peter Ruiz
AFROTC, Det 105