ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
"Leadership involves solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."
- Secretary Colin Powell
I want to start by commemorating the life of a great American we recently lost to complications from COVID-19. Gen. Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, has been a personal inspiration to me, and many of you, for a large majority of my career.
I had the distinct pleasure of personally meeting General Powell during a Boys and Girls Club of America event back in 2009, and his words on building trust and leadership ring truer now more than ever. He once said that “trust is the essence of leadership.” I want to provide a few thoughts on trust.
As we look back on the past year, we can see how both strong interpersonal and institutional trust have paid huge dividends as we have faced some of the toughest challenges 2021 has thrown at us. Building that trust starts with listening. Over the past year, I have been grateful that we have been able to perform unit visits and hear directly from so many of our Reserve Citizen Airmen. Spending time listening to both your successes and your barriers to success always strengthens our resolve to work harder at headquarters to remove those barriers.
Of course listening is just the first step. As leaders, we have to work to continually reform the organization to make the lives of our Airmen better. During the past year, we worked to fill all of our full-time first sergeant positions and chaplain positions for the purpose of helping Airmen.
As an Air Force, we have committed to listening to suggestions from the field to continually make our service better. For example, the reforms to dress and appearance standards this year were driven by a grass-roots campaign of women who spent countless hours of their off-duty time to make data-driven policy recommendations.
Without trust, innovation cannot survive. A subordinate is unlikely to bring up a potentially game changing idea if he or she thinks they will either be vetoed without being heard out, or worse, not given credit when the idea works.
This year at the Air Force Association Conference, we saw how that trust in action could bring incredible results. Our own Staff Sgt. Santosh Devkota was recognized with the Air Force’s General Spencer Award for innovation after he developed an offline database to streamline aerial port operations during system outages. He saw an opportunity to solve a problem. His leadership knew that doing so was within his abilities and advocated for him. When he was successful, they ensured he was recognized.
Of course, sometimes we fall short of the mark when it comes to maintaining trust. One example was the financial issues we experienced early in this fiscal year. We cancelled several training orders with little notice, delayed AGR hiring and caused some significant pain for units.
As leaders, we saw this impacting units and took steps to prioritize those with the greatest need. We also cancelled several of our own events, only doing what was absolutely mission essential to free up resources to minimize the impact on our formations. We also convened a weekly meeting with every wing commander to allow for greater transparency and to solicit feedback. It is only through frank and transparent discussions about our problems that we can continue to build institutional trust and work together to overcome them.
I want to close by talking about another recent event. In October, on behalf of the Air Force Reserve’s entire enlisted corps, I presented Lt. Gen. Scobee an invitation to be inducted into the Air Force Reserve Order of the Sword. The Order of the Sword was adopted by noncommissioned officers in 1967 as a way to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the enlisted corps.
Over the arc of his entire career, General Scobee has continually earned the trust of the enlisted force. During my entire tenure as his senior enlisted advisor, this man has had my back. More importantly, he has had the back of the enlisted corps. He has advocated for impactful policies such as expanding Tricare Reserve Select and ART-to-AGR conversions, which are particularly helpful to our junior enlisted personnel, all while simultaneously leading this command through a myriad of challenges, including fiscal constraints, civil unrest and a pandemic.
I can’t think of anyone who has done more for this command, and am honored to have represented our enlisted corps in presenting this invitation. I look forward to honoring him at the upcoming ceremony, and will keep you all posted as the date draws near.
As always, I am extremely proud of each of you, and honored to serve alongside you as your command chief.
TIMOTHY C. WHITE JR.
Chief Master Sergeant, USAF
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chief of Air Force Reserve
Command Chief Master Sergeant, Air Force Reserve Command