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Innovating through COVID-19: AFGSC deputy commander offers leadership advice through virtual AFROTC Summer Internship Program

Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton speaks with ROTC cadets.

Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, AFGSC deputy commander, speaks to Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets July 20, 2020, as part of Air Force Global Strike Command's AFROTC Summer Internship Program. While normally a few dozen cadets participate in the program in person, due to COVID-19 restrictions the program was held virtually, allowing more than 375 cadets to participate from universities and colleges across the United States.

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

While COVID-19 travel restrictions have presented challenges to conducting many programs normally held in person, Air Force Global Strike Command recently used innovation and technology expand the reach of their AFROTC Summer Internship Program, allowing Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, AFGSC deputy commander, to share information and leadership advice with more than 375 cadets.

“Normally, each class consists of eight cadets and has a ROTC cadre member and an AFGSC POC,” said Dale Hernandez, Chief of the Deterrence Operations Professional Development Division in AFGSC’s Innovation, Analyses and Leadership Development directorate, or A9. “However, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and AFGSC’s inability to safely host cadets, this summer the command offered a virtual or distance learning delivery of the SIP, which allowed it to open the program up to more than 300 cadets.”

On July 20, cadets were able to participate in a virtual discussion and question-and-answer session with Cotton, who spoke to the group about the command’s mission and modernization efforts, but his main focus was developing as a leader, as he shared with the cadets what he calls “Cotton’s 4 Cs” of leadership.

“As you make your transition from being a student at university ‘X’ to being a second lieutenant at base ‘Y,’ there are four things that I think you can put in your toolkit that you can use as an officer, but also just to be a great human being,” Cotton said.

1. Competence

“The first thing I ask you to do – I want you to be competent in your tasks,” he said. “Be the best you can be in the task you’re given when you become commissioned.

2. Commitment

“The second ‘C’ is commitment,” he said. “I need you to be committed in that task, because I don’t know how anyone can become competent if they’re not committed to being the best that they can be.”

3. Composure

“As an officer in the United States Air Force …. if you have a bunch of young Airmen who are working for you, they’re going to look at you and see how you react to a situation,” Cotton said. “I’m telling you folks, it happens as a second lieutenant and it happens as a lieutenant general, but if you show composure, grace under pressure, it makes all the difference in the world.”

4. Compassion

“Compassionate leadership is so important, because you’re going to have people working for you that are going through some pretty interesting times. You’re going to walk right into that. You might be going through some interesting things as well,” Cotton said. “Understand your blind spots, understand what you’re good at, work at what you’re not. Everyone has blind spots. Everyone. But you can still show compassion in the decision making tools that you use.”

“Competence, commitment, composure, compassion. Guess what folks? You can use those for what you’re doing in the United States Air Force, but you can also use those for relationships,” he added. “You can use that if you’re dealing with your aging parents, if you’re dealing with siblings, significant others, those 4 Cs work for all of that.”

In addition to his leadership philosophy, Cotton also spoke to the group about the command’s role in the nuclear triad, innovation efforts, and how proud he is to see the quality of the cadets coming in to the Air Force.

Two other virtual sessions were held July 22 and 24 that included panel discussions on strategic national security, AFGSC’s bomber aircraft, a “Submarines 101” briefing by a participant in the Striker Trident Navy exchange program, the UH-1N, ICBMs, Nuclear Command, Control and Communication, maintenance and security forces. All of these helped meet the SIP’s learning objectives to help cadets:

  • Develop a basic understanding of AFGSC mission and its role in strategic deterrence
  • Develop basic knowledge of a USAF base including support, operations and maintenance
  • Professional development opportunities to enhance their leadership abilities
  • Understand the fundamental reasons why U.S. nuclear capabilities and deterrence strategies are necessary for U.S., allied, and partner security. 

“This program allows cadets to develop a basic understanding of AFGSC mission to include opportunities to gain perspective from the deputy commander our A9, the Air Force Institute of Technology, field grade officers and other company grade officers,” said Idrick Ferguson, Chief Analyst, Officer Talent Development, with AFGSC A9. “We do this to help cadets better develop basic knowledge of Air Force base operations including support, operations and maintenance prior to coming on as active duty members.”