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NEWS | May 1, 2006

Don't forget the big TOE

By Senior Master Sgt. John Evalle 1st Civil Engineer Squadron

If you have seen the movie “Stripes,” the classic comedy about the Army, you may recall the scene in which Bill Murray volunteers to lead his platoon. 

“An Army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe,” he said to his fellow Soldiers. “And Sergeant Hulka (their platoon sergeant) isn’t always gonna be there to be that big toe for us.” 

Although intended to be humorous, his comments remind me of two essential points that members of today’s Air Force must constantly keep in focus: developing Airmen and accomplishing the mission. 

As Bill Murray’s character points out, our current leaders will not always be here, and the future leaders of the Air Force are the young Airmen joining the Air Force today. As re-enforced by our first core competency, there is nothing more important than developing and preparing Airmen for those leadership roles left open by senior members as they culminate their careers. 

True, the “Sergeant Hulkas” of the Air Force will not always be there to lead our troops, therefore, our commitment to developing Airmen to be the next “big toe” is vital to the future success of our great Air Force. 

Developing Airmen begins by establishing a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and caring. Leaders should not confuse this relationship with trying to be everyone’s buddy. Set and demand high standards and hold individuals accountable for failing to perform. Seek opportunities to cultivate leadership in those junior to you as well as empower and delegate tasks to those showing potential for greater responsibility. Require subordinates to think through problems and develop proposed solutions before coming to you. And finally, be approachable and keep your relationship strong with regular, open communication and feedback. 

The “big toe” mentioned in the movie also reminds me of our responsibility to the mission. The first three words in the 1st Fighter Wing mission statement are “Train, Organize and Equip” or TOE. This big TOE is my way of keeping my priorities in focus. It should be at the top of every Air Force leader’s priority list; doing so will help constantly remind you of this question: Are my Airmen trained, organized and equipped to perform the mission? 

If there is any doubt about this question’s answer, take immediate action ensure the answer is quickly brought to a concrete “yes” across the board. Place those actions at the top of your priority list. Regularly check with your Airmen to see how they would answer these questions and encourage open communication for them to provide feedback as to areas of improvement. Air Force Smart Ops 21 asks for us to look at our processes for value and this big TOE should be first on your list to review. 

How does your big TOE stand up to Smart Ops 21? 

Are there opportunities to increase the efficiency and value of your current training program? 

Do you seek training opportunities in daily operations to reduce the requirement to set aside dedicated time for training? 

Are there opportunities to gain efficiency in the structure of your organization? 

Can redundant activities be eliminated by combining similar activities into one section? 

Have you identified equipment shortfalls and the impact on the mission for not having those required items? 

Can specialized equipment items be shared across organizations, bases, or commands? 

Our ability and commitment to properly train, organize, and equip our Airmen to perform the mission must be unwavering. 

Bill Murray’s offer to be the platoon’s “big toe” gets a good laugh, but the Air Force’s future success is directly dependent on today’s leaders’ commitment to developing Airmen and focus on mission accomplishment. 

That is no joke. 

Prepare your Airmen to be the Air Force leaders of tomorrow and show your commitment to mission accomplishment. Put your big TOE out there for everyone to see and keep it at the top of your priorities!