Take care of your Airmen

  • Published
  • By Maj Steve Dubriske
  • Staff Judge Advocate
Over my career, I have often heard the leadership quotation, "If you take care of your troops, they will take care of the mission."
While some may think this statement is nothing more than a cliché, I truly believe from personal experiences as both a leader and a subordinate this axiom is accurate.
Senior leadership in the Air Force apparently agrees with my humble opinion as this principle has been incorporated into Air Force doctrine. If you do not believe me, download a copy of Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development, and review Chapter 1. It states:
"People perform the mission. They are the heart of the organization and without their actions a unit will fail to achieve its objectives. A leader's responsibilities include the care, support, and development of the unit's personnel. Successful leaders have continually ensured that the needs of the people in their unit are met promptly and properly."
AFDD 1-1 also clarifies it is not only commanders who have this leadership responsibility. All leaders -- whether a crew chief, NCO in charge, flight commander or staff agency chief -- have an obligation to take care of their troops.
There are an infinite number of ways a leader can take care of his or her Airmen. For this article, I am going to talk about three areas I believe are important. Borrowing from the Chief of Staff's responsibility to organize, train and equip, I believe all leaders should recognize, train and equip their troops. I will briefly discuss these areas in reverse order.
Equip: Leaders have the responsibility to equip their subordinates with the skills necessary to allow the subordinates to become the leaders of the future. The passing of this leadership torch can be accomplished by a number of different ways, both formal and informal. The formal skills can be developed through professional reading programs, feedback
sessions, professional military education or formal mentoring programs.
More often than not, however, leaders simply prepare their subordinates for future positions of responsibility by how they act (or react) to certain situations on a daily basis. All of us can probably remember working for that "screamer," or recall a time that a commander or supervisor berated and embarrassed a co-worker in public for no apparent reason. Most of us probably said something like "I will never do that when I am in charge." If you are now "in charge," remember that everything you do as a leader provides both positive and negative leadership lessons to your subordinates. Because of this fact, we should always be cognizant of our actions and strive to provide the positive lessons to equip our subordinates for their future leadership positions.
Train: Leaders also have the responsibility to sufficiently train their subordinates to ensure they have the necessary skills to accomplish the mission. Leaders must seek out formal training schools and relevant temporary duty opportunities to ensure their subordinates have the most up to date skills in their area of expertise. These skills can then be reinforced or taught to others in the organization through on-the-job training programs.
In the legal office, our training program focuses on both career-specific training for judge advocates and paralegals, as well as joint office training that address issues we see in the office that impact everybody. We also try to get out of the office on a routine basis to see what other organizations at Vance Air Force Base do to accomplish the flying training mission. Visits to the radar approach control, base operations, and the maintenance shops (thanks again operations support squadron, maintenance quality assurance evaluators and DynCorp) allow my staff to understand the needs of our clients. While this type of training does not take the place of formal training courses or on-the-job training, it is definitely more fun.
Recognize: I have found that this is probably the most difficult leadership responsibility to master. While most of us truly enjoy recognizing our staff for their good work, we get caught up with our in-boxes and in-baskets, letting this responsibility slip. Prior to becoming the staff judge advocate, I did not appreciate how much work it is to draft award packages in addition to your daily duties. However, I guarantee you it makes a big difference to that staff member you nominate for an award -- even those who tell you they do not care if they are recognized. Believe me, we all enjoy accolades for our good work.
Recognition, however, does not have to be as time consuming as drafting an awards package. Taking the time to recognize a subordinate in a staff meeting or at an office function is also a great way for a leader to meet this duty to his or her troops. Recognition in whatever form you can give as a leader is important, so take the time out of your schedule to do it.
Recognize, train and equip. Three simple words that are sometimes difficult for leaders to implement. However, as discussed in AFDD 1-1, a leader's responsibilities include the care, support and development of those personnel who are the heart of Vance AFB and get the mission done on a daily basis. Leaders, take care of your Airmen.