Where have all the leaders gone?

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Maw
  • 33d Operations Group commander
One of the most useful tools to measure a unit's climate is a survey of those members who have decided to leave the Air Force. Over the last few years, I've noticed a lot of those surveys have mentioned a lack of or poor leadership as a major reason not to reenlist. 

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this perception and have come to the conclusion that many of us (including myself) spend too much time looking at our superiors for leadership, when in reality, leaders are around us every day. They might not be wing, group or squadron commanders, but they are out there and we need more of them. Here are a couple examples. 

On day two of our last Operational Readiness Exercise, the Expeditionary Operations Center was abuzz after a simulated chemical attack to our base. In sweltering heat, the entire wing was in Mission-Oriented Protective Posture 4 (that's full chemical suit-up and gas mask), recovering from this attack. There was conflicting information on where the chemicals were and how long they would persist, and the wing commander had to make a decision on when to go back to MOPP-2 and get out of the masks. 

Thousands of people and the success or failure of our mission would rely on this decision. The wing commander quietly walked over to Staff Sgt. Darren Pemberton, 96th Civil Engineer Squadron member, who was working in the chemical/biological detection section of the Survival Recovery Center, and asked for his recommendation. Sergeant Pemberton clearly articulated the situation and risks. The wing commander immediately decided to announce MOPP-2. 

Sergeant Pemberton was a leader that day, and his leadership was responsible for thousands of people taking off a lot of uncomfortable chemical gear in order to launch sorties. 

A day later we were again under attack, and this time there were at least 10 inspectors watching. I scrambled to put on my chemical gear when a young Airman approached me. Airman 1st Class Christina Di Preta, 33rd Operations Support Squadron, quickly noticed I made several errors donning my chemical gear. She instantly helped me with my mistakes. Airman Di Preta was a leader that day, and if not for her, I would probably have been "dumb morted" by the inspectors. 

As we approach our Operation Readiness Inspection, I think it's a perfect time for us to think about leadership. And when you think about it, don't just look to your supervisor, commander, first sergeant, or chief - look at yourself. A successful ORI, or for that matter, our day-to-day success, will depend on every one of us taking every opportunity to exhibit leadership. Sergeant Pemberton and Airman Di Preta were leaders during the last ORE, and there are hundreds of stories just like theirs. 

Where are the leaders? They are amongst us every day. Are you one of them? We need you to be!