Vance success has a special ingredient

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Nowland
  • 71st Flying Training Wing commander
Monday morning I'll be leaving what I have often said is the best job in the Air Force - commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance AFB in Enid, America.

My bride, Kristan, and I, and our children, Nick, Natalie and Isabella, have had a fantastic and fabulous time during our assignment here. And you know what? We couldn't have made it here without each and every one of you doing your jobs so very well every day.

Thank you.

I've learned many valuable lessons as your commander. I've also discovered the special ingredient that makes Vance such a unique and highly effective team. But I'm not going to tell you what that ingredient is. Not yet anyway. I'm going to illustrate it instead with three stories about three members of the team.

None of these stories involve airplanes, tornadoes or the incredibly satisfying job of pinning wings on new pilots every three weeks. Instead, they all reveal part of Vance's special ingredient.

The first story is about a junior NCO who made a lasting mark at Vance, but not in her primary career field. At a minute past midnight, June 8, 2009, a labor dispute began at Vance that lasted two weeks. Pilot training came to a halt, but life at Vance could not. Lodging was at full occupancy and someone needed to ensure the residents' needs were met.

Staff Sgt. Sarah Price, who has since married and is now Sarah Core, stepped up to the plate. One day she was providing air traffic control for student pilots at the radar approach facility and the next she was making sure lodging guests enjoyed a good night's sleep. Sergeant Core and her team worked every day, including weekends, to ensure the lodging mission did not fail.

The second story is about a young lieutenant, fresh out of the Air Force Academy, who came to Vance to be a pilot, but discovered a different path awaiting her. Second Lt. Katie Roling traded a future set of wings for the quill and lightning bolt badge of a public affairs officer.

Shortly after completing her initial training in Public Affairs, she was deployed to Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, to work with Soldiers, Sailors and fellow Airmen as part of a provincial reconstruction team. Now wearing body armor and carrying an M-4 rifle, she is working shoulder to shoulder with the Afghans to rebuild their country.

We can kill a lot of Taliban, but ultimately success in this war is about gaining trust from the local population for our United States forces. Lieutenant Roling is making a difference every time she goes outside the wire, despite the threat of mortar attacks and enemy fire. She makes a difference every time she replaces her Kevlar helmet with a shawl to show respect for the local culture. She makes a difference every time she smiles and passes out ink pens to the Afghan children who flock around her.

My third story starts inside the gates but travels far beyond. The 41st annual Area 6 Special Olympics track and field meet was held on base April 1. Over the years, more than half of the meets have been held at Vance. It takes a lot of logistical planning and volunteer recruiting to successfully host an event like the Special Olympics. Translation: someone was going to be very, very busy.

There is an old management axiom that says to get a big job done, find a very, very busy person. Maj. Danielle "Burn" Willis, my director of staff, is one such busy person. Despite an already full work schedule, she found time to think beyond herself, and bring together an event that would have a lasting impact on Enid's Special Olympians. Major Willis found the time and energy to make the kind of difference that helps strengthen the bond between the local community and the base.

There are many more examples I could have chosen, but all three of the people in my stories have that ingredient that makes Vance so special. It's service. It's people thinking of others.

Sergeant Core saw the value of keeping lodging up and running, putting the needs of others before her own. Lieutenant Roling is giving her deployed mission an extra smile and helping hand, despite plenty of reasons to be scared to death. Major Willis put the needs of our neighbors before her own and found the time and drive to give a very special day to some very special neighbors.

As we each move forward in our interactions with the world, add that special Vance ingredient to everything you do. Think about reaching out and doing something a little bit extra special as you look at your own future. It might mean taking the job that no one else in the squadron wants. For some, it will be making that extra effort while deployed to win the heart and mind of an Iraqi or Afghani. For many of us, it will be doing that one extra thing that makes the difference in someone's life.

We can all add that special Vance ingredient to our volunteer efforts in the local community through Christmas in Action, Camp Tomahawk, coaching a soccer team or singing in a church choir. We can all add that special ingredient when taking a home-made dinner to the new mom in the unit. It truly amazes me how many Air Force families begin at Vance. No fewer than 152 babies were born during my command.

My family and I have had some wonderful assignments during our Air Force career and we are moving on to a challenging job at the Air Education and Training Command headquarters. I'm sure the assignment will add some amazing memories to the story of our lives, but our time at Vance will always be an exceptional memory because of that one special ingredient.

If you want to make the future of Vance even better and move the Team forward, think of others.

Thank you again Team Vance. It has been a privilege to be your leader.