Lorenz on Leadership - Today's Airmen

  • Published
  • By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
  • Commander, Air Education and Training Command
Recently, I had the distinct honor to attend the Airman's Coin Ceremony at Lackland AFB. It is always a privilege for me to meet the terrific men and women who train and are trained in what seems like a timeless setting.

That day, the crystal blue sky melted into the field of blue-suited trainees who proudly marched onto the parade field. They were surrounded by thousands of family and friends, all having traveled to Lackland to witness something special. Everyone in attendance sat, buttons busting with pride, eyes straining to catch a glimpse of their son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife or friend. The American flag presided, waving prominently on top of the pole.

Like everyone else, I sat at the ceremony marveling at the 745 trainees, ready to become Airmen in the world's greatest Air Force. For Lackland, this scene replays itself every week, year-round. For trainees that afternoon, however, it was their day, and I felt it as soon as the first flight marched onto the pad. Everyone felt it -- the pride and eager anticipation was written all over their faces; these trainees knew they had accomplished something absolutely amazing.

I was especially proud of these Airmen. They decided to join something bigger than themselves and defend our nation and its ideals. Within months, many of these Airmen will be sent forward into harm's way. I have no doubt that they will succeed. You see, our Airmen, non-commissioned officers and senior NCOs are the finest in the world and it doesn't happen by accident. Our recruiters fill our ranks with members from all walks of life and our training and education systems are second to none. We are a reflection of American society, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Basic military training is a terrific example of our Air Force's pursuit of excellence. The training builds upon the foundation influenced by mothers, fathers, grandparents and teachers across the nation, emphasizing the Air Force Core Values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. It transforms young Americans into members of the Air Force family, a motivated team of warrior Airmen.

Why is our enlisted force the best? In a single word: trust. When an NCO from security forces tells me that the base is secure, I know without a doubt that all is safe. Before flying, I always review the forms documenting maintenance actions on that aircraft. The SNCO's signature at the bottom of the forms is all I need to see to have complete confidence in the safety of that airplane. I liken it to the cell phone commercial many of you have probably seen on television. Although there may be a single man or woman standing in front, he or she speaks with the voice of thousands standing behind. A successful team is one that works together, enabled and empowered by trust.

Where does the trust come from? It starts with our integrity, which is tested daily and without which a team cannot operate successfully. Basic training reinforces it with the discipline, initiative and competency essential to defend our nation and its ideals. Technical training continues the theme and is the next journey for these Airmen where they will develop respective core competencies that fit into the overall Air Force machine. Later, these Airmen will become NCOs and SNCOs and the Air Force will depend on them to make difficult decisions -- the "tough calls" that years of experience and training enable them to make. The Air Force machine relies on them, trusts them, to make the right call.

All of us have a job to do and no job is more important than another. One terrific example is Tech. Sgt. Matt Slaydon. In October 2007, while leading an explosive ordnance disposal team to investigate a suspicious road sign in Iraq, Sergeant Slaydon sustained extensive injuries when a bomb exploded two feet away from him. As Matt later said during his Purple Heart ceremony, "It's a rare thing for a person to find a job and career that gave them great, great joy. Every day I loved coming to work, and after a short period of time, I gained a great sense of purpose from what I did. I know that those days are coming to an end for me ... I think probably what I'll miss the most is this Air Force family and this great sense of purpose."

Sergeant Slaydon gets it. All tasks have purpose and even the least glamorous are mission essential. We must all follow his lead and embrace our function, our purpose.

On our Air Force team, everyone's ability to perform their function is what builds trust and makes the machine run so smoothly. Ultimately, we all share the same goal -- the defense of our nation and its ideals. That's the common denominator, regardless of rank, where trust and mutual respect are paramount. At every base, in every shop and office, Air Force leadership, both officer and enlisted, consistently sets the example. We are all role models and always on the job. Our Airmen live up to these expectations every day.

Back at Lackland, the Coin Ceremony concluded with the Airman's Creed. All 745 spoke with a single voice, "I am an American Airman. I am a warrior. I have answered my nation's call." It was absolutely captivating; the crowd hung on every word. As the newly coined Airmen finished the creed, their voices rose in unison for the last line, "... And I will not fail!"

The last words echoed across the field and stayed with me. I knew each of the new Airmen stood that afternoon wondering if they were ready, eager to be tested. In reality, they had just passed their first big test with flying colors. Other tests and challenges will follow, but these new Airmen will face their challenges as members of the Air Force team. I have unwavering trust in our team -- together we will not fail!