Reflections at retirement: Proud of every day I put on the uniform

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Tyson
  • 3rd Fighter Training Squadron
Next week marks the 26th anniversary of my enlistment in the U.S. Air Force. You'd think after that length of time I would have some prophetic words to pass on as my retirement draws near. 

Sorry, I do not. 

What I offer are a few thoughts that have served me well. The first are three axioms Chief Dennis passed on to me as a single-striped Airman at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, in 1983. They still apply today -- maybe more than ever. 

"Keep it simple stupid." In this day of virtual assistance, hyperlinks to Web sites, electronic staff summaries with digital signatures, cyber warfare, and net centric strategies, how on earth do you keep it simple? 

I charge you to keep it simple by focusing on the small things. Know your job, take pride in your work, and to borrow from an aging cliché -- lead, follow, or get out of the way. 

Do you know your job as well as you can? Are you an expert in your career field? Do you take pride in your customer service, work ethic and professionalism? 

Are you qualified and courageous enough to lead? Disciplined enough to follow? Humble enough to get out of the way? 

Please don't pay lip service to these attributes. I strongly believe they are at the core of being an Airman in today's Air Force. Don't blur the level of your involvement. Choose the level of your contribution and stick to it. Successful mission execution requires singular leadership, dedicated followers and demands that those not committed get out of the way. 

"Don't be a careerist." This axiom, more than any other seems to have changed over the years. We now have suggested career pyramids and we talk a lot about "filling the square" with respect to advanced degrees, professional military education and duty positions. 

In a simpler time, the chief told me to "shut up and work hard, your boss will take care of you and make sure you get where you need to go." 

Of course, this begs the question, "What if I have a bad boss?" My suggestion -- trust your supervisors, work hard at the task at hand and simply do what you think is the right thing to do when it comes to volunteerism, education and your job. 

Trying to time things just right and worrying about your career but forgetting about your primary job as an Airman is what we used to call being a careerist. Set goals, but realize your actions, contributions to the team and time itself mold the career you will look back on. Don't be a careerist. 

"Take care of the people around you." Take the time, no matter how busy you are, to talk to your subordinates. I submit to the theory of "management by walking around." 

Mosey around the duty section every day to see, first hand, what's going on. Lend your ear to your troops in an informal way or informal setting. Mentoring should happen due to mutual respect and gentlemanly conversation, not just in formal, scheduled, Air Force Instruction-driven forums. How willing are you to discuss your life, ambitions and family when sitting on an upright chair in the middle of your boss's office? 

Finally, the singular word I find to describe the U.S. Air Force now that the sun is setting on my career is opportunity. 

The Air Force gave me so many opportunities: to travel, be respected by my civilian peers, earn an honest wage, gain an inexpensive but extremely valuable education, enjoy safety and security -- economically, medically, fiscally and socially. 

Lastly, I've had the opportunity to achieve both on and off duty. My accomplishments were recognized and applauded, whether it was participation on sports teams, off-duty education or accomplishments at works. The Air Force has developed a culture that goes out of its way to praise accomplishments. Don't take this for granted. 

I am so proud to have been part of the U.S. Air Force. My debt of gratitude to the people and the institution is enormous. I am proud of every day I put on the uniform and I thank God for the wisdom and strength he gave me to walk through the gates of Lackland AFB, Texas, on April 15, 1983. 

I will miss you.