Lorenz on Leadership -- Building a winning team

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
On July Fourth, I was fortunate enough to represent our Air Force at NASCAR's Coke Zero 400. I joined more than 100,000 Americans -- undeterred by the summer heat -- at the Daytona International Speedway. 

The energy at the speedway was as thick as the humid air and the excitement contagious. Motor homes covered the infield and racing fans were everywhere. This was my first NASCAR event, and I knew it would be a treat. 

My first stop at the speedway was the Air Force recruiting stand, set in the middle of energy drink booths and race team merchandise trucks. Our stand was clearly a hit -- race fans swarmed over the different displays. 

I watched in awe as members of the 333rd Recruiting Squadron managed the crowds with ease. The recruiters' enthusiastic smiles said it all -- they were there to inspire, and I couldn't have been more proud to stand with them. 

The crowd asked questions. They thanked everyone in Air Force blue for the service we provide every day. The recruiters reciprocated, engaging everyone with the Air Force story. They taught the public what we do each and every day. 

You see, these recruiters were the first introduction many Americans would have to our Air Force, and they weren't going to let any race fan leave with a bad impression. 

The recruiters were also at the race to find new recruits to fill our ranks. Accessing more than 32,000 new Airmen each year doesn't happen by itself -- and it isn't a process to be taken lightly. 

These new Airmen will be joining our team, enabling our mission for many years to come. We will depend on them to lead our Air Force through the next 35 years of challenges. 

The recruiters looked for young, confident Americans ready for a challenge. I found out later that they found more than 700 potential Airmen that afternoon. I also learned that finding potential Airmen is just half the battle -- only a handful of the 700 will eventually attend Basic Military Training for various reasons. 

Before they get to BMT, it will be the recruiter's responsibility to invest significant time and effort to educate them on opportunities within the Air Force and to evaluate their potential to serve. It is the recruiter who will lead them through the upcoming months and set them up for success at both BMT and beyond. 

It is challenging work, but all of our recruiters volunteered for this duty and have a passion for telling America about our great Air Force. 

From the recruiting stand, I transitioned to the speedway infield where NASCAR set up a mobile stage on pit row. More than 100,000 race fans gathered to witness something special -- a swearing in ceremony for 65 new recruits. 

For the recruits, it was another step in their journey to BMT. They all raised their right hands and repeated as I recited the Oath of Enlistment. The crowd roared in response as they finished -- each recruit's eyes beamed with pride. They knew they were joining a winning team. 

NASCAR immediately transitioned pit row for the race, and the crowds moved toward their seats. When the race began, the crowd's attention turned from the booths and information stands to the battle on the oval giant. The recruiters didn't pause to enjoy the race. Instead, they attacked the displays, tearing them down and loading trucks that would drive to the next race. 

While watching the event, I realized that the race teams competing on the speedway share many similarities with our Air Force. Our nation loves auto racing -- drawn by the rare mix of competition, danger and teamwork. 

It is this teamwork that ties the Air Force to NASCAR. The drivers, much like the operators in our service, stand in front as the face of the organization. Their success, however, is completely dependent on the hundreds who support from the wings. 

Like our operators, the NASCAR drivers would never make it to the track if not for the combined efforts of crew chiefs, engineers, logisticians, administrators and many others both at the track and the team shops. 

One big difference between us, however, is how these teams are built. NASCAR builds a team that will compete for a season. They invest time, money and manpower into training and race day execution -- all with the ultimate goal of being the first to reach the checkered flag. 

There is nothing seasonal or static about our Air Force team. Without the ability of our recruiters to inspire the nation's finest to serve on a daily basis, our Air Force team would never be able to sustain its impressive record of excellence. Theirs is a critical endeavor. 

The race ended after a final lap crash sprung the eventual winner through the checkered flag. The crowd rose to their feet as the winning driver spun his wheels in jubilation. His pit crew stood tall, arms high in the air, congratulating each other on their team's victory. 

We achieve victories each and every day, but rarely get the chance to congratulate our recruiters. Take the time to thank them, for without these professionals and so many other support personnel like them, we would never even make it to the track.