Looking back over the past four years

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James M. Gifford Jr.
  • 8th Flying Training Squadron
June marks four years for my family and me here at Vance AFB. It also marks the month of my reassignment to the Pentagon. Having served as the director of operations for the 25th Flying Training Squadron, the DO for the 8th Flying Training Squadron and then the commander of the 8th FTS, I consider myself truly blessed with opportunities to serve and to lead.

I want to share a few of my personal beliefs that were reinforced by my experiences here at Vance.

First, I believe that we are officers first and aviators second. This concept is more crucial than ever as the U.S. military continues to evolve as a truly joint force. The Air Force plays a pivotal role in the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the arenas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and special operations.

We need to remember that U.S. troops on the ground are dependent on Air Force capabilities, and we, as professional military aviators, can never falter. The joint arena and the modern battlefield demand officers who are experts in their field, not experts who happen to be officers. There is a difference and it is critical that we continue to embrace this idea as a service if we expect to fully integrate into the future U.S. military.

Last week I had the distinct honor to accompany the secretary of defense on his trip to visit the recruits at Fort Benning, Ga., the Rangers in "swamp training" at Eglin AFB, Fla., and troops preparing to depart for Afghanistan at Fort Campbell, Ky.

The secretary was completely "connected" to the men and women of the U.S. Army as he shook each hand and presented a coin to each individual soldier. I allowed myself a moment of personal pride because I knew that these soldiers would be receiving intelligence, resupply and close air support from U.S. Air Force assets. Some of those assets are and will be flown by pilots produced here at Vance AFB. If that fact doesn't make you proud, I'm not sure what does.

Second, I still believe that attitude matters and that what you say and do on a daily basis does and will make a difference. As professional military aviators, we need to keep our instructors and our students motivated, no matter what personal or professional problems we might be facing at the time.

When you brief to fly or simply greet somebody in the hallway, you need to be a positive force. Even when you've had a bad day, you still need to be positive even though it might be extremely difficult. It is through this constant positive leadership method that you can fundamentally influence people to do their best and to be their best. It works. Try it.

Finally, the last four years have given me the privilege to fly with and serve with some of the finest officers in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. I look back on my experiences at Vance and I can truly say that I tried my best to be a positive role model and leader. My eternal gratitude goes to my superiors, my squadron and my family.

Good luck and God bless.