Lorenz on Leadership -- The solid foundation

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
Our Air Force has more than 175,000 civilian employees spread across the globe. In fact, they make up more than 25 percent of our authorized Total Force end strength.

The civilian force fills an ever-increasing role in daily mission accomplishment, especially as we've experienced personnel reductions over the past 20 years and, many would argue, no decrease in operational requirements. In reality, we are busier than ever ... and our civilian workforce makes it all possible.

Each of you know many civilian employees. They are the glue that holds our Air Force together and the stability that our organizations rely on. Through the years, I've been fortunate enough to depend on the counsel and wisdom of hundreds of civilians. Time won't permit me to reflect upon all of them, but let me highlight three senior service civilians that made a positive difference in my life.

The first one I'll tell you about is Art Sarris. I first met Mr. Sarris when I was a captain stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. A veteran of the Army Air Corps during World War II, Mr. Sarris began his civil service career in 1946 and worked his way through the logistics ranks until he became the senior civilian employee in Air Force Logistics Command in 1974.

Despite his significant responsibilities, Mr. Sarris took time to mentor me. He explained current issues and challenges, and helped me see them through his eyes. Not only did I have an immediate respect for his tenured wisdom, but understanding his senior perspective early in my career proved invaluable throughout mine.
Mr. Sarris also helped me gain a newfound appreciation for the thousands of civilians working at the Air Logistics Centers across the country. After all, their efforts directly enabled the daily combat capability of our force then, just as they continue to do today.

I met many more amazing civilians during the next 30 years, but the next I'd like to talk about is Roger Blanchard. When I met him, he was the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel at the Pentagon. Roger started his civil service as an intern at Kelly Air Force Base in 1973 and diligently worked his way through the personnel ranks. When our paths crossed, I was the Director of the Air Force Budget and marveled at how many sought his counsel, including service secretaries and chiefs of staff.

You see, Roger had no personal agenda and his advice always reflected deep thought. He worked problems, not personalities. Not surprisingly, Roger was a quiet person. As a result, whenever he spoke, people turned their heads to listen. They knew they were about to hear something thoughtful, relevant and valuable. Through him, my respect for those personnelists throughout our force increased each and every day. After all, it's their expertise (in an often thankless field) that supports our greatest resource, all of us.

The last civilian I'll highlight is Bob Stuart. Bob was my Deputy Director of the Air Force Budget during my most recent time at the Pentagon. When I got to the job, I was in need of some help. My Air Force experience up to that point focused mainly on aircraft operations, not the budget process. I was Bob's fourth director he had worked for as a deputy. He had worked in finance at the Pentagon for more than 30 years and he provided the stability that the organization relied on each and every day.

Bob was always thinking ahead. In fact, it was his vast knowledge that helped guide the budget office. I've often thought that Bob's influence far exceeded what it would have been had he been the boss. In the end, Bob did as the others had done. He left me with a great respect for all those financial managers and an appreciation for their daily impact on the Air Force mission.

These three civilians are examples of the thousands who make up our Air Force team today. They are invaluable experts whose hard work and good, honest feedback help us all learn and improve. Although the advice may not always be something we want to hear, such counsel is what everyone should expect.
After all, in most cases our civilian force has probably seen the pitfalls and potential second and third order consequences of our "well-intentioned" decisions before. Such vision only helps all of us make better informed decisions for our organizations.

We can't be the finest Air Force in the world without our civil servants. They are the foundation that we rely on each and every day to do our jobs. Take time to appreciate their impact and thank them for making such a positive difference for our Air Force team.