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Remembering

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- As I get older, I find myself looking back over my life, sometimes with fondness, other times with regret, but I tend to ask myself, "How did I get here?"

When I was 19, I was working at a job that had little chance for advancement, so when my supervisor told me that I should check out military service, I listened. I went and talked to a recruiter and enlisted soon after.

After Basic and Tech School, I was assigned to an Engineering and Installation (E&I) unit in New York. I got the opportunity to see a lot of interesting places, such as Spain, England, the Pentagon, a few New England states, and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line above the Arctic Circle. Between TDYs, I was "invited" to attend the PME classes that were available at the base. I think there were three of them back then before NCO Academy. I was very naïve and had no idea why I was going, but my supervisor told me I had to go, so I went.

At the end of my first enlistment, the economy was struggling, and I couldn't see myself getting out and trying to make a go of it, so I re-enlisted, choosing to cross-train from radio maintenance into computer maintenance. I got to spend another 7 months or so in beautiful Biloxi, Mississippi.

After my second tech school, I got stationed at "NORAD CMC" which I found out was Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I worked with some very interesting people. Probably the most interesting was my neighbor, who worked the Civil Engineering side of the Mountain. He gave me a tour once, showing me the generators that are ready to take over if they lost commercial power, as well as the reservoirs used to cool them, and the cooling towers and the fuel storage. Very interesting stuff, especially to a guy who fixed computers for a living.

I spent about 3 years there, and then got stationed at Geilenkirchen, Germany, a base I'm sure some of you have heard of. I was the NCOIC of a workcenter of motivated NATO civilians, and I took the opportunity to go to college. I got my CCAF degree and most of the credits for a second degree a few years later.

While I was there, I attended NCO Leadership School in the United Kingdom. When my chief came over for my graduation, I was extremely surprised that he would make time for something like this. But he did. I never forgot that.

Later that year, I got a line number for Technical Sergeant, and my chief told me I would be a Master Sergeant two years after I pinned that one on. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded, and it made my upcoming decision very difficult. My wife and I had decided it was time for us to go home to Michigan, but to do that, I was giving up my immediate promotion and the expressed one of my chief. But I had made my choice.

When I got home, I continued working towards my Bachelor's degree, and I joined the Guard, mainly because I didn't want to lose all my Active Duty time. I worked as a Drill Status Guardsman for 3 years, and then a full-time position became available, I applied and got hired.

Over the years, I have had a supervisor who instilled in me some very important facets of being in the military. First, make sure you have all your boxes checked as soon as you can. Get your PME, your skill level, and any other requirement done. Make sure it's not your fault you aren't getting promoted. Second, you should be doing the job of the next rank before you pin it on. Accept the responsibility before it is thrust upon you.

He taught me to accept responsibility. He pushed me out of my comfort zone into situations I didn't want to be in, but it was the best thing he could have done for me. It opened my eyes and my mind, and forced me to learn even more about myself. I learned that being in charge doesn't mean you have to be in the middle of everything. I used to accept additional duties all the time, thinking that if I didn't do it, the job wouldn't get done or it wouldn't get done right. I found out that this was counter-productive, that a lot of things fell through the cracks because I wouldn't let go of them. I'm getting better.

I think one of the biggest things he taught me was to take care of my people. He did this in more than just words. It didn't matter what kind of a job I did on any project, if I didn't do something to recognize my people who worked on the project with me, he wouldn't recognize my performance. This might sound like negative feedback, but it worked. I want others to recognize my actions. This also taught me another valuable leadership trait. You have to learn what works for different situations and different people. What works for one person in one situation may not work for someone else in that situation.

The supervisor I owe a debt of thanks to just retired at the end of 2011. In a way, I am writing this down to say thanks to him for all the hard work he's done, not just for me, but for the unit and the Wing as well. I hope he realizes what a profound effect he has had on a lot of people. Thanks, Al.

So, after all these words, what, exactly, am I trying to say? I'm trying to say that I have been blessed through my career. I have had good leaders who molded me and made me better than I thought I could be. They discovered what motivated me and pushed me to be better. If you are a supervisor out there, what are you doing to teach the people coming up behind you? Are you treating them with respect? Are you taking care of them appropriately? And if you're a younger Airman, what are you doing to demonstrate that you have what it takes to move up through the ranks? This doesn't mean waving a flag and saying, "Look what I did!" It means doing your job well, and realizing that it will be noticed.

I've said this many times over the years. Your future is in your own hands. You control how far you can go.