Observations from the inside: What it takes to be an effective SNCO

  • Published
  • By Col. Gregory S. Holzhei
  • 127th Maintenance Group commander
This past week, I had the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with Tech. Sg. Sheila Lipe in front of her peers and listen as her promotion order to master sergeant was read to the group. Hosting these small events and being part of something that means so much to one of my Group's members is truly rewarding, and it's one of the reasons I enjoy this job so much.

Prior to her "pinning" ceremony, I spent a little time formulating what I thought I should say to her about joining the Top Three. At first I thought I would capture some verbiage from AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, also known as "the little brown book." Then, on second thought, I decided to ad lib a little about what it would mean to be part of the leadership team in my Group.

I told her, as a master sergeant, I expect her to lead. That is, transition from someone who is taken care of, to someone who steps up and takes care of others. I told her that she is now the person who makes sure her Airmen have the equipment they need to get the job done. She is the person who makes sure the Airmen are fed. She is the person who mentors and guides. She is the person who makes sure her Airmen know "everything is going to be all right." In addition, she is the one who is happy when her Airmen succeed, and the one who will feel sad with them if they fail or they hurt. She is the one who will be called on to make tough personnel choices and render honest opinions about a subordinate's individual capabilities. She is also irretrievably wrapped up in the success or failure of the mission.

I tried to impress on her that she is expected, now more than ever, to be part of the solution to the unit challenges and issues. She has nearly twenty years as an Airman herself so, I'm fairly certain I didn't tell her anything she didn't already know.

These leadership positions in the wing and across the National Guard require so much more from our Airmen than in years past. I can remember a time in this unit where getting a "master stripe" was little more than a military pay raise. We used to be very non-demanding on the recoupment of services rendered in the form of an actual work increase for increased pay. It was common for folks to get that E-7 stripe and change very little about what they did for the mission and organization. The same was true for officer promotions. It wasn't very long ago where unit vacancy promotions were the norm and everyone got one.

About five years ago, then-127th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Peplinski decided to change the course of this culture. Now, the norm is that everyone goes through a board process, whether it's here at Selfridge or at the headquarters level, and everyone must meet the requirements just to meet the board. I think it's a fairly well- employed raising of the standard that was long overdue, and it evens the playing field for all members. We still occasionally have members who feel like the board is biased, but it's better than no process at all. We've moved away from arbitrary and secretive promotions, which is a very good thing. Even though we are a long way from how business was done in the past, we still have a ways to go.

After Lipe's promotion ceremony, I lingered behind to continue to address the members from my Group who were assembled there. It was during this time that I challenged my enlisted leaders to continue to raise the bar for standards and compliance across the Maintenance Group. I also challenged them to picture in their minds an enlisted "leader" who they would consider a poser; i.e., someone who has put on a master stripe and taken no initiative to excel as one of the top three. I'm sure every person in that room could name more than one senior enlisted person who falls short of the expectations of a senior enlisted leader. The point of that exercise was to remind all of us to continue to use all of our experiences, both good and bad, to shape our future actions. In this case, a "poser" is not someone to be imitated, but rather someone from whom to learn what not to do.

In the Maintenance Group, I am extremely blessed to have some of the finest examples of senior NCOs a commander could ever ask for. Every day, I watch them take charge and get this mission done without a complaint, even as the mission gets harder and more challenging. I believe part of this success is them knowing they are responsible to accomplish their part of the overall mission, and them knowing that when the going gets tough, I have their back.

I am confident my newly minted master sergeant will be a great addition to the MXG leadership team, and I look forward with great anticipation to seeing her flourish and grow with her new stripe.

Congratulations Master Sgt. Lipe!