Expectations of commander assignment surpassed

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Ronald Baldinger
  • 71st Operations Support Squadron
I took command of the 71st Operations Support Squadron "Ghostriders," Dec. 9, 2005, and it seems that in the blink of an eye I am already facing my June 14 outgoing change of command. My time as squadron commander has far surpassed any experience I could have ever anticipated. I will take this opportunity to share some lessons learned and ideas confirmed over the last 18 months, as well as to brag, just a little bit, about the Airmen of the 71st OSS.

Addressing my squadron members for the first time as their commander in my change of command speech, I said, because of the caliber of my Airmen, I knew that if I provided resources, training opportunities and command guidance, they would execute the mission with the highest level of success and professionalism. I could not have been more correct. In fact, my expectations have been exponentially surpassed. From my most junior enlisted member to my senior officers, my Airmen have proven themselves to be incredible warriors, executing the duties within their individual scopes of authority to the highest standards. I have seen air traffic students struggling through training emerge with their qualifications, thanks to tireless training efforts, a concerted effort between Airmen and civilians. I have seen officers, challenged for the first time with duties outside a flying squadron, use personal innovations to succeed in jobs with wing-wide impact. And, above and beyond their outstanding feats at work, I witnessed unbelievable efforts of community service and countless hours donated to charity. These daily achievements and constant energy have proven boundless.

Going into command, I knew I would be making daily decisions that would affect people's careers and lives. Actions on assignments, promotions, jobs and personal issues are some of the commander's most constant concerns. The far reaching effects of these actions cannot be underestimated. Personal involvement in every Airman's life is the key to success. Taking the time to listen to career goals, hear about a personal issue or address a duty-related concern is vital. Every Airman should feel that his or her needs are being addressed by their commander or supervisor with a genuine personal energy and a focused drive for resolution. Working each circumstance as a unique issue with a specific solution builds trust and confidence and ultimately yields the most fitting results. It is incredibly important, for example, to spend time with an officer reviewing his or her records and explaining in detail the promotion process or intermediate developmental education selection process. This is often confirmed when they tell you afterwards they had never had an in-depth education in these systems. It is crucial that a commander or supervisor put aside every burning fire the second an Airman shows at the door with a personal issue so problematic they feel they cannot turn anywhere else. Above all else, on any level of leadership, the most important initial trait is the ability to LISTEN. The opportunities to guide, help and mentor present themselves every day ... and every opportunity should be taken advantage of.

Watching Airmen go to war and return has been another source of pride. The majority of Ghostriders who deployed during my command went on their very first deployment. Many were young (under 25) and several were making their first trip outside the United States. I have tried to instill an expeditionary mindset in my squadron and I constantly encouraged those who have deployed to share their experiences with others, and those who haven't to learn from our returnees. We accomplished this through deployment going-away/return gatherings as well as in less formal get-togethers.

What I have enjoyed most were my personal meetings with individual Airmen just prior to their departure and directly following their return. For those going on their first deployment, their pre-departure demeanor normally held anticipation and uncertainty mixed with a cautious confidence. I sent them out with the assurance their training would keep them safe and successful, that they would be a force multiplier to our mission and that their family would be taken care of at home. Several months later, often less than 24 hours after their return, I would enjoy a meeting with my newest "seasoned" warrior. Hearing the experiences of these Airmen fresh out of country is incredible. They have now been through the many ranges of emotions, fear and uncertainty that envelop one during the first several weeks of mortar attacks and through an entire deployment of unimaginable challenges. They have also personally experienced the tremendous machine and limitless power that is our joint military in action. We discuss the new life-long friends they made and laugh about the sensory overload their sand-soaked eyes are currently experiencing as they view our "dark" green uniforms and funny looking black boots. I can never tell my Airmen enough how important our work is to our home and our deployed missions, and how proud I am of their excellence in both.

I constantly pushed my Airmen, as well as myself, to ensure the proper emphasis was put on important occasions of recognition. With few exceptions, every decoration given was done in service dress and every promotee I pinned-on memorized the oath of office. My deployers were sent off and welcomed back with squadron gatherings and I did my best to ensure deployed families always knew the support of the 71st OSS was a constant in their lives. For retirements, I spent many hours memorizing careers and achievements to ensure the ceremonies I conducted were worthy of the incredible commitments our enlisted and officer retirees and their families made to our nation. Regardless of the grumblings I occasionally heard about having to put one's service dress together or not be able to just show up on promotion day with new rank on the uniform and no ceremony, I will leave here knowing the effects of these efforts were positive.

I've been running 100 miles per hour since Dec. 9, 2005, and I wouldn't trade a second of it for anything. I learned more than I ever anticipated. These lessons have come from superiors, peers and subordinates, from both successes and challenges. I am so very proud of the Airmen of the 71st OSS and their families. There are many careers and lives I will continue to follow as Mina and I leave for our next adventure. I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege of command.