LANGLEY AFB, VA. –
Today, after 25 years of service, the 1st Operations Group deputy commander hangs up his flight suit and leaves this “fraternity.”
Col. JJ Blessing may still be a little wet behind the ears from his fini flight, but this experienced veteran has seen a lot of changes through the years.
When he went into the Air Force Academy in 1977, the only Airmen were airmen basics and airmen. Within the last two years, the Air Force began calling all members Airmen – a simple change, with dramatic results.
“It took me a while to get used to being called an Airman,” Colonel Blessing said. “I always thought they were talking about someone else. But now, I think it’s a more cohesive term and I like being part of one big fraternity.”
This was Colonel Blessing’s third tour at Langley. He was first stationed here in 1992 right after Operation Desert Storm. It was also a pivotal time in his life; he was a budding captain with a line number to major and a need to learn more about leadership.
Then Lt. Col. Bjoring was the 71st commander and Lt. Col. Straight was the operations officer. According to Colonel Blessing, both officers were very talented aviators, and Colonel Straight, a Weapons School Graduate, was clearly one of the best Instructor Pilots in the Combat Air Forces.
“But what I liked most about this team was the manner in which they dealt with people,” Colonel Blessing said. “Looking back, I’d describe what they did as giving the squadron a ‘conscience.’ Not to say it didn’t have one before, but under their leadership I saw tangible improvements in the way people acted. They got the squadron feeling and acting more like a member of the operations group team than I ever thought possible. They were both great role models and what I learned from this … is that one man can indeed make a big difference. It all comes down to leadership.”
Colonel Blessing took those good qualities, made them his own, and then built upon there foundation.
“I’m driven to make things better than the way I found them and to be a great role model,” he said. “I want to make sure my impacts are positive ones … because it can work both ways. We frequently discuss in my Sunday school, the impact of a great role model and I view this as my own personal mission. There is no greater complement someone can pay you than to try and emulate either you or your behavior. This is what drives me.”
The colonel also loves ethical challenges. In his view, things are rarely black and white.
“I love trying to figure out what the ‘right’ thing to do is in different situations,” he said. “Kind of sounds like our core values, doesn’t it? I think people are more loyal when they have the confidence you’re acting for the better of the organization and not for yourself.”
Colonel Blessing would like to think everyone shares those values – service before self, integrity and excellence in all we do – and he believes there should be no distinction between personal lives and professional careers.
“It doesn’t work very well to be a hypocrite,” he said, “and that’s not what I want to be known for.”
Based on the opinions of the Airmen in OG, he won’t.
After the flightsuit is hung, his ears are dry and his retirement has officially begun, it still won’t be time for Colonel Blessing to stand still.
“My interests are wide and I’m still searching for the perfect match between me and some great company with a similar value system and a stellar reputation for doing meaningful work.”
In his parting words, he said he wouldn’t change a thing about his career.
“Now this is in retrospect of course,” he quipped. “If you had asked me before moving to some new assignments I might have given you a different answer. But in the end, my least desired assignments turned out to be my most rewarding ones so I wouldn’t want to change a thing.
“When I look back, if I could be so bold to say I was proud of one thing in particular, I’d say it’s probably my reputation and I hope people will agree. I don’t normally fret over things beyond my control, but your own personal conduct is 100 percent under your control and there’s no excuse for developing a bad reputation.”
Definitely words of wisdom.