Warrior ethos in PME ... are you kidding me?

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Atticus C. Smith
  • Kirtland NCO Academy
For at least the past two years, the Air Force's senior enlisted officials have communicated the need for people to step outside of their comfort zone and experience new things: whether it's being a TI, a recruiter, a professional military education instructor, career assistance advisor or a first sergeant.

So as I digested these words of wisdom I began to explore the ads on the assignment management system. As I searched for senior master sergeant positions I soon realized that jobs were few and far between; however, in late 2005, I came across ads for the director of education position at Tyndall AFB's and Kirtland AFB's noncommissioned officer academies.

In early 2006, I was happy to hear that I was chosen for Kirtland. My only hurdle now was to be released from my career field; quite a sketchy feat considering I was an enlisted flyer -- an aerial gunner at that. It's very hard to be released from a flying position; however, after a few tedious months I was finally blessed to leave my career field.

Having an enlisted flyer in PME really doesn't happen all that often. At least I don't recall meeting a flyer as I progressed through the PME stages. So what will I bring? I can honestly say that the Air Force Special Operations Command breeds a different set of folks, and I am no exception. After 11 years in AFSOC I feel I bring certain attributes that are long overdue in the PME arena. Within PME we often hear the words warrior and combat leader. Personally I feel these words have turned into catch phrases. We can't just say we are all warriors or combat leaders; we must practice the ideas and thoughts behind those terms. Simply put, AFSOC gave me that opportunity.

I must admit through the short time that I've been the education director I have reflected on the life I left and the life I currently lead. Never was that reflection more evident then on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. I chose Sept. 11 as the day to officially hang a flag on my recently purchased home. Sure I could have done it weeks ago, but I wanted to wait. After securing the staff to my house I began to search the numerous boxes in my garage for a flag. I absolutely knew I had a flag, it was just a matter of navigating my un-packed TMO boxes. A short time passed and then I came upon a flag.

Not just any flag -- it was my flag. This flag flew with me on Oct. 10, 2004, during a combat mission over central Iraq. Our mission was to transport a few Army Special Forces to different locations in Iraq, as well as to deliver about 350 pounds of school supplies to a remote village.

The flight was quite mundane until 2220 Zulu time, when we were 30 miles south of Baghdad. At this point and time two surface-to-air missiles were fired at our helicopter formation. Seeing missiles veer toward you is exciting but not fun. In about 30 seconds we dispensed multiple counter flares and made every defensive maneuver possible. In the end our training and technology outweighed the enemies' luck.

I hung the flag proudly and read the page-long citation depicting the flag's journey that night. After revisiting that mission and thinking of other missions I asked myself, "What am I doing now ... I used to be 'in the fight', where am I now?" Sure, for the foreseeable
future I'm away from the fight but what am I contributing? The answer is simple. I'm contributing the same things I did while being an aerial gunner and a squadron superintendent, except without the deployments (and without squeezing triggers).

As an SNCO leading a combat squadron I expected a lot from my NCOs. I expected them to carry themselves proudly and professionally: to respect our profession. I expected my NCOs to develop their Airmen; to lead them through change, to lead them through conflict. I expected them to be able to lead their shops and their people throughout a variety of circumstances and situations. I expected solid EPRs and award submissions. I expected documents that made sense without an array of errors. I expected a lot because when they make master sergeant it's too late to play catch-up.

It's too late for them to understand what makes a good EPR and award package. It's too late for them to understand the proper format of a document. It's too late for them to seek help when confronted with a leadership problem because they will be the leader. I'm happy to see that the NCO academy curriculum falls in line with what I expected of my NCOs. I consider myself an average guy and if I'm expecting these things, I am confident other SNCOs and superintendents are as well.

The thoughts and ideas behind the words warrior and combat leader are certainly up for individual debate. Does a person have to be assigned to a combat unit? Absolutely not!

I feel it's an attitude that can reside in any organization. It's an unwavering ability to face adversity head-on. To view situations with an attitude of how can we make it happen, instead of merely saying we can't do that. It's a unique ability to make the best of any situation ... even when you are getting shot at.

My flag has served our country proudly. Each day as it waves and sees me off to work, I take pride that I'm still serving it proudly. Our Air Force needs military professionals, combat leaders, unit mangers and effective communicators. I am proud that I and our dedicated staff, build upon and refine these attributes every six weeks.