JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. —
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shane Wagner recently assumed the role of 633rd Air Base Wing command chief.
A veteran of 25 years, Wagner, enlisted as a weapons Airman before retraining into weather. After he was asked if he’d consider taking the Special Operations physical training test and challenged that he couldn’t do it anyway, Wagner took the test, passed it and joined the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Weather Team.
Wagner has served as the command chief of the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Forward Operating Base Oqab, Kabul, Afghanistan.
The Chesapeake native sat down to discuss his leadership philosophy, and his expectations and objectives for his time as command chief here.
1. What is your leadership philosophy?
I’ve worked with a lot of commanders that have shaped me as a senior leader and certain things that I use in my leadership philosophy.
Can’t to me is “capable and not trying.”
I don't like people telling me they can’t, because they can. Maybe it’s not legal, moral or ethical, so it’s not authorized and I can handle that, but most of the time it’s “yes, what’s the question” and I’ll get you as close to “yes” as I can. We’ve got to have the right communication and attitude to breed a future that enhances and encourages innovation of young Airmen because they are so smart. To come in here and hold that back, we’d be doing such a disservice to the Air Force.
You also have to have a positive attitude. You could have to do the worst mission in the world, but if you have a positive attitude it all of a sudden becomes better. If you hum and holler, and say “This is horrible.” then it’s going to get even worse.
U.S. Special Operations Command did a study, they found that it takes 46 people to put one operator on a target. One person doesn't do their job, it doesn't happen. I know there are people out there that have jobs that are not the shiny ones, but if I can get them to do it with a positive attitude, the culture will change. To emulate that from the top—I think it’ll spread. That’s why you’ll see me up on stage when the music is playing during promotion ceremonies dancing around trying to lighten the mood, and I’ll joke around because it gets people in the right attitude for the day and if we can start each day with the right attitude, no matter what we have to face, it’s going to be okay.
2. What are your initiatives? How can we as Airmen help you achieve those?
There’s a lot of things we’re pressing forward with to try to make things better. Right now, I’m working with Col. Sean Tyler, the 633rd ABW commander, to stand up a mission enhancement flight to help out with some of the things we have going on around base. I want to do a bunch of continuous process improvement around the area to see how we can streamline processes to give Airmen their time back.
Additionally, I am working with the First Term Airman Course to have an in-processing day at the end of the FTAC to do any in-processing they need. Then, when sending them back to their units, they are 90 percent signed in and ready to start their upgrade training.
One of my big pushes is Club Connect. It’s such a great way for Airmen to connect with each other. What it does is draw all these people with common interest together and keeps them doing things that they're interested in that is healthy and doesn't let the opportunity for destructive behaviors to set or be temptations. You all get together, share ideas and have little events.
3. What do you expect from us as Airmen?
That’s simple: It’s to have fun every day and smile. Everybody hears the same thing, “Learn your job.” That’s a given, it’s in our core values— “Excellence in all we do.” I can say that, but you're going to do that anyway. I want you to smile, I want you to have fun and I want you to remember to take time for your family. The Air Force will be here tomorrow.
The important thing for Airmen to remember is life balance is huge. Eventually you’re going to hang up this uniform. Don’t run out of family before you run out of career—it happens too often. If you can’t do it, then come talk to me—let’s work through this.
“I didn't make chief,
I had Airmen that made me chief.”
4. What are your primary goals for your time here?
My main goal is to make sure we are supporting every mission partner out here seamlessly. From this office’s perspective, the communication and transparency with our mission support partners could be better and I'm going to make sure that happens. I want to make sure everybody knows what’s going on. I’m going to be pushing and over communicating a lot. That’s one of the things you're going to see from my office—information overload, so people are informed.
5. Where do you expect to take us?
Col. Tyler is all about the mission partners and very much about the Airmen and making sure they have what they need. We also want to strengthen and expand our spouses’ programs. Our spouses are our mission partners too. You and I serve, but our family members sacrifice. It’s a new Air Force and were going to step up and see it. If I’ve got to do the heavy lifting and I only get it an inch off the ground, then we’ll get it an inch off the ground. That is what I'm going to be pushing.
6. What is your impression of the 633rd ABW so far?
The professionalism you guys have shown already is amazing and I just need to make sure I remove barriers for you and provide whatever you need to keep that positivity going. That is what I need to do and that is what I’m going to do.
7. Do you have final thoughts?
I just want everybody to realize that I’m not like any other chief you’ve met. This is the only way I know how to be as crazy and approachable.
I didn't make chief, I had Airmen that made me chief.
I try to keep myself grounded because you never want to forget where you came from and every stripe I wear below the top chevron, I owe back. That means I have to work myself to death to make sure I give it back and that’s what I'm going to do.
Anybody can come up and talk to me, my door is always open. As an Airman with PTSD and having suffered for so long, and hid it for so long. I hid it because you didn't show weakness in special tactics, you didn't go to mental health back then and eventually it caught up to me.
An analogy I use for that is: If you walk around life with a ruck sack and throw a rock in there every day, you’ll be able to walk around for a very long time filling that ruck sack up, but eventually that ruck sack is going to get full.
If you create those rocks—that stress in your life—that you’re not getting help for, eventually these rocks are going to start falling out or the worst thing that could happen—that ruck sack rips and it all comes out and bad things happen.
That’s what happened with me.
I got to that point and I needed help. I still see mental health, I see a psychologist and a psychiatrist, I’m open about it, I’ve got nothing to hide, but I’m still a command chief and I still have my clearance. If I can ask for help, you can ask for help, and if you can’t, and you want talk to somebody who has been through it, here’s my number, call it or text me. I won’t ask your name unless you tell me. It’s too important for people to stress over this stuff when there’s resources out there. If I can help just one, over the time I’m going to be here at the 633rd ABW then I’m going to walk away from this assignment with a smile and with pride.