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The best advice I ever received

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Cathy Barrington
  • 319th Missile Squadron commander
Summertime is usually a time of change for military members. There are new commanders, new duty stations, massive moves across the country and other changes that create a new environment. The stress of so much change can be mitigated with a very simple approach I learned 16 years ago.

As a senior at the Air Force Academy, I attended an after-lunch lecture by Col. C. Robert Kehler. As the 30th Space Wing commander, he was brought in to give our senior class advice on what to do after graduation. I had already selected space and missiles as my career field, so I was very interested to hear what he had to say. I had no idea his words would serve as a guide throughout my career. This is a paraphrase of his lecture. Trust me. It was a great speech in person.

His first piece of advice: learn your job. Become an expert in whatever it is the Air Force asks you to do. He discussed how impressed he was with his young missileers who would learn the electrical routing of all the power that enters a launch control center and their mastery of checklists for missile competition. No matter what job we move to, there is always something new to learn. The speed at which we learn and to what level of detail determines our success.

Additionally, Kehler suggested getting involved. Additional duties and volunteer opportunities offer the chance to expand leadership skills while getting to know the other people and agencies involved in mission accomplishment. The profession of arms requires us to take a team approach to problem solving. By being the go-to expert and being involved in what the squadron does provides a chance to grow and partner to support the mission.

Finally, he said: perform. It is that simple. The Air Force provides each of us the training and opportunity to become whatever we want to be. But performance is owned by the individual. Our promotions are based upon past performance. Supervisors can mentor, provide feedback and lead Airmen to opportunities, but it is up to the individual to perform. The Air Force core values provide a simple guide we should measure our performance by: did we maintain our integrity, did we place the needs of the service above our own, and did we perform in an excellent manner? If the answer to all three is "yes," then we are on the right track.

It was a very simple guide, one that stuck with me all these years. I credit this speech for guiding me every time I moved to a new duty in the Air Force. Kehler provided a guide for success that fits all the jobs I have encountered. As a commander, I pass along this advice to all the squadron's newcomers during our expectations briefing. And, it must be good advice considering Col. Kehler is now Gen. Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and the first missileer to be a combatant commander. If this worked for him, it must be good enough for all of us, too!