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Commentary | Nov. 8, 2010

Typecasting our Airmen

By Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Murphy 633d Security Forces Squadron

Typecasting is the process by which film, television or theatre is strongly identified with a specific character or always cast in a specific type role. There have been instances in which an actor has been so strongly identified with a role that it has made landing different types of roles or characters difficult, if not impossible. Some actors try to break typecasting by choosing roles that are opposite the types of roles they are known for.

I think we can all identify with John Wayne as a rough and tough cowboy, military leader or other prolific hero character. Can you imagine Jim Carrey playing any of John Wayne's roles? Typecasting happens to actors of both great and modest ability. An actor may be typecast either because of a strong identification with a particular role or that they lack the versatility or talent to move on to other roles. Some actors welcome the steady work that typecasting brings, but in general it is seen as undesirable.

Typecasting may be viewed positively as the actors sometimes become rich and famous, known for eternity for their performance in a particular role. For an actor, getting typecast is a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can be fairly sure they will always have work. On the other hand, if typecasting as the "guy with frantic diarrhea," they can look forward to a career of being "diarrhea guy."

People may say "Airmen aren't actors, so we don't typecast them." Do we not keep our Airmen in the same positions for too long, not allowing them to apply for different jobs inside or outside their squadron and discouraging them from seeking other opportunities? As supervisors, we often typecast our Airmen without even knowing it.

When a new Airman is assigned to our squadron, we review their records and see they have been in training and did an outstanding job. We place them in training because we are facing an inspection or have an important task to be trained. We keep our Airman working as enlisted performance reports are written. The Airman is so good at their particular job, we keep using them in that position, which hinders the development of an effective unit and a well-rounded Airman. We unwillingly develop "one-person knowledge."

So, how do we overcome the typecasting of our Airmen? Move your people around to develop them and keep them fresh, as change brings about productivity. Today's dynamic operational environment requires individuals and their leaders to learn while successfully adapting to a different environment under pressure. Today's Airmen are expected to be more diverse in their skills. Effective training and versatility are the cornerstones of operational success. Give guidance and recognition at critical points. Ensure they understand your intentions, reward success, and build from failures.

We must encourage everyone in our organizations to set challenging goals and meet them. If there are no opportunities in your squadron, look outward. When an announcement e-mail comes out, we need to do more than just forward the e-mail to all. That e-mail is our call to action. We have two responsibilities: to forward the e-mail to all, including a target audience; and. to talk to that audience about their opportunities. Help your Airmen apply for special- duty assignments. Encourage your Airmen to instruct professional development class. Suggest joining a professional organization. Your personal interest may make the difference between being known simply as "the training NCO" or as a well-rounded leader.