On an island, leading adaptive Airmen…ready to execute

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Frank Laras, 65th Air Base Squadron commander
  • 65th Air Base Squadron

My leadership philosophy wasn’t developed overnight; it is rooted in my parent’s investment in my childhood, sharing in my father’s 30 years of service to the Air Force, nurtured with my own life experiences and mentored by a handful of fine general officers.  My childhood bestowed upon me the ability to adapt and overcome.  As a child I lived in seven different states, three different countries, changed schools five separate times...if I didn’t learn flexibility, or the need to be dependable as a military son, I don’t know what environment would have better prepared me.  I grew up playing team sports, soccer and baseball mostly, where the team would only thrive if the individual collective efforts supported one another and a common goal.  The opportunities I have had in my life, coupled with my amazing wife Libby and daughter Sophie, helped make me the man I am today, and I’ll forever be grateful for them all.

Throughout life, one of the questions I often ask myself is, “What does it take to make a difference in the lives of others?”  In my opinion, time and compassion are the answer, which requires patience and the willingness to be vulnerable.  Take action, lead by example.  A leader possesses the moral, legal, and professional responsibility for the Airmen in their charge.  As a leader your personality, your priorities, and your passions will echo through the Airmen you serve with and for, provided you take the time to invest in them.  Leadership is about mentoring tomorrow’s leaders through today’s challenges and never missing the opportunity to recognize their hard work.  Inspiring leadership motivates others to discover the best version of themselves, to influence by aligning personal and professional goals that connect to the mission, and paving a path unique to that Airman.  Effective leadership requires the willingness to be ultimately responsible for everything that leads to the group’s success or failure.  It begins with self-reflection, and the moment a leader explains a failure by making an excuse or pointing their finger elsewhere, they abdicate from their position.  A leader must maintain the willingness and discipline to conduct honest, realistic assessments of their own performance and that of their team.

Our squadron priorities: Airmen Development, Mission Readiness and Bilateral Partnerships, were developed as a team last summer.  When we saw the wing’s lines of effort roll out earlier this year, it reaffirmed our understanding of mission and vision.  Leadership is about people, and relationships matter.  I firmly believe if you care for the Airmen, our greatest resource, and their families they will take care of the mission.  The caring portion starts with building a culture of dignity and respect.  That culture expands to include an understanding of both personal and professional readiness life-balance, “i.e., what’s their story?”  Sitting down with each member within your unit builds rapport and allows you to better support the pillars that make up their foundation.  Airmen who are cared for and believed in bring the creativity, motivation, and passion needed to succeed.  From that, together we educate, train, study, and exercise as an organization to create the muscle memory needed when called upon to generate, protect, sustain, and project airpower 24/7.  When readiness is the focus, mission execution becomes a natural occurrence.

COVID-19 changed the work environment in which we operate, but the mission of maintaining US options for the projection of airpower into any corner of the globe remained the same.  Aligning people’s orientation was absolutely critical because this threat is all about people.  Active Duty, dependents, and civilian employees, along with host nation partners, view the challenges through very different lenses.  In order to overcome hard decisions and navigate the waters surrounding this pandemic, open and honest communication at every level from the Wing down through the flight sections was mandatory.  Good leadership creates understanding through inclusion, and buy-in by encouraging opinions, questions, and suggestions from everyone, no matter their position, and by resisting the urge to domineer and discourage discussion or dissent.  

In recognition, the Centurions of the 65th Air Base Squadron deliver on their oath everyday through innovative means of accomplishing the mission with collaborative bilateral partnership efforts at the Department of Defense’s mid-Atlantic strategic airfield.  Centurions have become medical screeners, security forces augmentees, and trained logisticians to download/upload cargo for transient aircrew in order to keep the mission moving.  The Centurions executed mission support for multiple Secretary of Defense and European Command initiatives, including anti-submarine warfare, bomber task force integration, Coronet movements and foreign military sales.  They led the reactivation of Lajes Field’s “Bullrun” tactical landing zone.  In direct support to the Portuguese air force’s number one priority mission of search and rescue throughout the nine islands of the Azores, the team expanded air traffic radar coverage 26% between two control facilities, reworked standby defueling support and refined high wind refueling safety procedures for helicopters responding to distressed vessels at sea.

Twenty-five different functional backgrounds merged into one entity to work alongside our fellow squadrons at Lajes to provide power projection capabilities delivering iron to Combatant Commanders in three areas of responsibility.  This didn’t happen by chance; dedication to the mission beats throughout every Centurion.  Over the past ten months, Centurions have been recognized with 14 wing-level and five major command level-awards.  None of this would have been possible without the hearts and minds of the Airmen who stand ready to execute.