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Commentary | Sept. 23, 2009

Don't lead me on, just lead me!

By Airman 1st Class Sylvia Olson 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

"The Air Force is built upon the hard work and dedication of its Airmen."

"Young Airmen are the future of the Air Force."

We've all heard these statements before, whether at a change-of-command ceremony, a commander's call, or any other official Air force function.

Those who have made these statements are valid in their convictions; young Airmen are assets for the Air Force's future. However, young Airmen need proper guidance to help the Air Force excel; an undertaking they can't accomplish alone.

All noncommissioned officers were at one time junior enlisted Airmen who asked their supervisors and NCOs for advice and looked up to them as mentors. Mentorship is certainly something I can attest to as being a big part of my own career as an Airman.

August 2009 marked my second year of enlistment. Even though I'm an adult and have had countless experiences that have shaped who I am, I admit my knowledge of the Air Force is fairly limited- I have only two years of experience, versus NCOs and senior NCOs who have served the Air Force for 10 or more years, and some longer than I've been alive.

When an issue comes up, I go to my supervisor or someone in my chain of command. These issues can be questions about my job, my uniform, healthcare and military protocol. They can be as simple as instructions on filling out official paperwork, what to do when I'm sick, and where to place my occupational badge on my blues shirt. They are things that Airmen don't necessarily learn during basic military training or during technical school, but learn afterwards at their first duty station.

There are also the unspoken things you learn from your leadership. Whether they realize it or not, NCOs are scrutinized by Airmen. By observing NCOs, Airmen learn what is and isn't considered professional behavior.

My attitude and work ethic were instilled in me long before I joined the Air Force; however, through observing my leadership and seeing how much effort they put into their job, I've gained a new idea of how hard I need to work to fulfill my duties. Their words, reactions and responses to different situations do not go unnoticed; they teach me what I should do if I were put under similar circumstances.

Unfortunately, there are times when you realize your NCOs and higher ups may not always serve as good role models. They give good advice and guidance, but at times do not "walk the talk" and follow their own advice. I have spoken with many Airmen from across the Air Force, and they all have shared the same experience with their leadership and can relate to this issue.

If Airmen are expected to be at work on time, then their NCOs should set the example. If Airmen are allotted a one-hour lunch break, leadership should do the same. If one of the main rules is to keep gossip and negative talk about others to a minimum, then all should follow it. If Airmen are expected to be professional and keep my personal life issues out of the workplace, then this too should be ingrained in the minds of their leadership. Whatever is expected of young Airmen should be expected of all ranks, enlisted and commissioned.

Leading by example is one of the best ways to create a positive and productive work environment, as long as the example advocates optimism and adheres to rules. If leadership fails to set a good example, then Airmen too will fail to do what is expected. Young Airmen are new to the Air Force and impressionable, whether they'd like to admit it or not.

Whether they want to be or not, NCOs and senior NCOs are leaders and role models and need to take the responsibility seriously; they should lead Airmen with the wisdom and experience they've gained in their Air Force careers. With appropriate guidance, young Airmen can continue to develop new leadership, technical and professional skills to help build an even better Air Force.