No deposit…no return

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. M. Kenui Balutski
  • 71st Flying Training Wing command chief
If you're familiar with the phrase "no deposit, no return" then chances are you first read it off the side of a glass soda bottle like I did, nearly 40 years ago. I was pretty well-versed in the principle as an 8-year-old kid in Hawaii.

Way back then, in 1971, we lived with my uncle for a few months in Hauula on Oahu's north shore. Because Hauula was pretty rural, there weren't many ways for kids to earn any money. In fact, there was only one sure-fire method and that was to return empty soda bottles to the grocery store for about a nickel apiece.

Since grocers paid cash to anyone who had bottles in-hand, I'd often capitalize on someone else's deposit for my own benefit. Today's no different as I still reap the benefits of thousands of investments made by others. But then again, so do you.

About two months ago, Air Education and Training Command's senior leaders and their spouses converged on San Antonio for an annual command conference. During the conference we visited Lackland AFB for a first-hand look at how Basic Military Training had evolved over the past few years. Since it had been a couple of decades since any of AETC's command chiefs had been to BMT, we really wanted to see what the new program delivered.

Our first stop was at the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training site where the trainees perform wartime tasks in a deployed environment. As we watched from the sidelines, enthusiastic trainees cycled through various duty positions, repelled and recovered from attacks, and then mastered the confidence course in short order.

Yes, those BEAST tasks were mandatory for graduation, but they also served as critical waypoints toward a significant rite of passage. Soon after slaying the BEAST, these victors would be honored in a ceremony that reinforces their most important transformation thus far.

Two weeks after completing the BEAST these "trainees" will be addressed as "Airmen," having earned their titles through hard work and perseverance. So, as we watched the trainees low-crawl up a dusty hill on the confidence course, Chief Master Sgt. Rich Wilk and I openly discussed all the positive investments and dividends we witnessed there that day, and we noted quite a few. That's what prompted this "no deposit, no return" commentary.

Without a doubt, AETC's up-front training deposits have been delivering BMT graduates who are years ahead of those from previous decades. Today's Airmen are now leaving Lackland with noteworthy wartime skills, elevated confidence levels and a much deeper sense of AF fraternity.

At this point, they're gung ho and ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, something impedes our Airmen's momentum after they arrive at their first duty stations. In many cases, that's because their professional-development deposits start slowing down or come to a complete halt. This is especially prevalent when supervisors are disengaged.

Just like the soda bottle analogy suggests; having custody of an Airman allows us to capitalize on all of the previous investments made because someone else paid-it-forward. So if first-line supervisors are simply cashing-in on an Airman's professionalism account by managing them like a resource, then they're sorely missing the mark.

Supervisors at all levels should be reinvesting in our Airmen daily through leadership, mentorship or sometimes through penmanship -- via written feedback. If we're making daily investments in our Airmen's professional development accounts then we'll probably see a boomerang effect. Because we'll eventually get back what we put in, both good and bad.

This boomerang effect was perfectly illustrated on my last day of BMT in June 1984. As my flight's dorm chief, I could only perform details during the late night or early morning hours. As luck would have it, my final rotation on the dorm guard roster ran from 4 to 6 a.m. on our very last night of BMT.

As was tradition back then, the final night of BMT was earmarked for practical jokes in the barracks. It was all harmless fun and there were a lot of laughs before lights out. At about 4:30 a.m., some of the guys who couldn't sleep wanted to continue the practical joking. So they asked me if they could walk through the bays and move people's uniforms around to liven things up at reveille.

I told them to have at it as long as they weren't malicious. So within a few minutes some uniforms items worn by short guys were swapped-out with similar uniform items worn by tall guys. Big hats were replaced with little hats as the jokers slinked across the barracks snickering in the darkness.

Everything was going well until I saw Airman Mike Bateman tiptoeing around the barracks filling shoes with shaving cream. So I called a cease-fire and sent the whole crew back to bed. When reveille sounded a half hour later, startled Airmen jumped out of their beds and started getting ready for physical training.

Amidst the typical morning's chaos, folks started to realize that their stuff wasn't actually theirs and panic ensued. Dazed Airmen started calling out the laundry marks on their ill-fitting uniforms to try to get their clothes back. Eventually, everything was returned to its rightful owner and the barracks quieted down to a dull roar.

That's when we all heard a loud expletive erupt across the barracks. It was one of the guys who just had slid his feet into his newly-returned shoes to find them both filled with shaving cream. That person was none other than Airman Mike Bateman. He was the unhappy recipient of his own deposit.

Moral of the story: If you fail to invest honorably, you're bound to put your foot in it later.

With every honorable deposit we make there's a good chance for an honorable return. Obviously some investments gain value overnight, some take years to mature and some may never result in tangible returns. Regardless, we can never stop investing in the people placed in our custody -- at least for as long as we, or they, wear the uniform.

Bottom line: Be deliberate in developing yourself and those around you. Capitalize on the previous investments made in all of our Airmen. Keep making professional development deposits for those in your custody. The mission demands it.