Diamond on the rock

LAJES FIELD, Portugal — There are two fundamental necessities for the formation of a diamond, extreme temperatures and tons of pressure. That helps explain why the crown jewel in the arsenal of the United States Air Force is the “First Sergeant.”

The 65th Air Base Group is proud to have Senior Master Sergeant Travis L. Rucker as the “Shirt.” Senior Master Sgt Rucker arrived at Lajes Field in Apr. 2018. Since then he has been a vital part in the lives of the men and women serving at Lajes Field.

After meeting with him there is one overwhelming impression that Rucker exudes: Passion. His passion for the well-being of the organization is well-known throughout the entire installation.

Like any success story, the beginning isn’t always smooth. “My dream was to follow in the footsteps of my hero, so I embarked on an unsuccessful bid to be the next Bruce Lee. I packed my stuff and moved from Eagle River, Alaska, to Los Angeles, California, with no car, no job, and no home. It was a fantastic journey and proved I could do anything I put my mind to while simultaneously showing me that without a solid plan, life can get painful very quickly. After going broke I decided to follow my love of aviation and engines and join the USAF. I processed through Military Entrance Processing Station in November of 1998 but didn’t get the call to head to Basic Training until January of 1999. I replaced a last-minute dropout; thus I showed up two days late and immediately joined the Rainbow flight. I quickly learned to hate my haircut but on the flipside, I didn’t have to perform all the “first day” drills everyone else did. That was my first real introduction to the simple fact that everything has pros and cons,” said Rucker.

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Travis L. Rucker, 65th Air Base Group first sergeant, poses for a photo at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, November 21. Rucker, who followed his love of aviation and engines, joined the USAF in 1998.

After a rocky start, Rucker looked inward and slowly realized the only way to achieve greatness is to believe in yourself.

“I believe the meaning of life is to give meaning to one’s life. It’s the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the beauty of such a gift is everyone else benefits as well. Personally speaking, my meaning is an overriding sense of adventure in the possible. I love the feeling that comes with an objective, a team, an adversary and clear sense of how to make the world a better place than I found it. I like to think of Hannibal Smith, a fictional character from the ‘A-Team’ television series, ‘I love it when a plan comes together,’ chomping on his cigar during the final scene,” Rucker said.

Lajes Field is an unaccompanied short tour. With that, there are unique challenges that Airmen are faced with when stationed there.

“When you’re away from the flagpole you always have to keep in mind that the external forces for maintaining discipline are weakened and therefore you have to work harder at reminding the Airmen why integrity is so important. Integrity is about doing what’s right even when nobody is looking and almost by definition, when you’re in a remote location your integrity will be tested. The flip side is if you can maintain your integrity and discipline, being assigned to a remote location is a welcome blessing since the unrelenting pressure of external forces you find near the flagpole rarely exists. The other large factor is separation from family and loved ones, although I would argue Lajes is the best location to mitigate that problem when compared to other remote tours — hands down,” Rucker said.

“The reason the First Sergeant billet at Lajes Field is an E-8 billet is precisely because my position demands greater adaptation as a result of being located on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic. My experience helps with understanding how the logistics, finance, personnel and medical fields interact throughout a base to help an Airman in need. My job is to coordinate and escort that process ahead and, when necessary, use my position to clear away obstacles. However, here I must be two steps ahead of the process or clearing away the obstacles could take much too long. For example, when family members have to visit for an emergency medical issue, I have to coordinate with multiple entities about how travel, who would pick them up and arrange billeting, how to overcome the language barrier, etc. That’s just the hospitality side of the equation, then determining family travel reimbursement, proper coordination and geographically separated unit reach back support with our host wing and so on. It’s just more cumbersome than at typical overseas bases and far more difficult than at a typical stateside base,” Rucker said.

It takes talent, hard work, determination at being successful, but there are a few other secrets that will help you attain a personal level of success.

“Stay focused on the objectives which stem from your meaning to aspire. Take time to think, and I mean think. Focused thinking takes as much effort as physical training and until you get practiced at it, it’s quite difficult. Focus on your goals and work backwards in small chunks to create the path in your mind and then follow it relentlessly. You’ll fall short from time to time; accept that. But stay focused and write down your way forward and check your progress regularly. It’s quite like finding your way through the wilderness. Plan out the route, find your guideposts of progress, and check your route for accuracy until you arrive. If your objective is to promote then promotion is growth; you need to grow in every sense of the word. Growth is work and it’s uncomfortable; we forget that. Embrace the discomfort; it means you’re growing. Arnold Schwarzenegger always smiled when he worked out. He was in pain, but he knew every repetition meant growth which took him one step closer to his ultimate goals. That’s what success looks like,” Rucker said.

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Travis L. Rucker, 65th Air Base Group first sergeant, uses both his personal and professional experiences to mentor Lajes Field Airmen. Rucker’s passion for the USAF and taking care of Airmen can be felt across the 65th ABG.

According to one of Rucker’s principles for success, “I love life hacks. Anytime we can do anything to solve challenges and improve our collective quality of life is a task worth doing. One of my favorite hacks is to explain to people a bit more about growth. Pareto’s Principle (the 80/20 rule) is exponential in nature. Very few seem to catch on to this yet I used it to map my efforts in becoming a Senior Master Sergeant First Sergeant.  Pareto stated 80 percent of the outputs are generated by 20 percent of the inputs. It follows on an exponential scale that 64 percent of the outputs are generated by 4 percent of the inputs since 80 percent x 80 percent gives you 64 percent and 20 percent x 20 percent gives you 4 percent. If repeated this happens yet again. You end up with 52 percent of outputs generated by .8 percent of the inputs. Recognize that ratio? Folks scream foul over wealth inequality but really it’s a natural state, the 1 percent own 50 percent of the wealth for the general fact that the 1 percent are extremely skilled at making money — they work at it relentlessly. Continued growth leads to exponential results, always. Any creative endeavor human beings partake in results in the same ratios of achievement. So use this principle to your advantage and become more than you ever thought possible in just a few short years. Focus on what gives you meaning and purpose, determine the skillsets needed to drive at that purpose and then grow those skillsets continuously. Your motivation will pressure you to continue to grow and before you know it, you’re in the top 4 percent or higher. By the way, the enlisted manpower allocations for E-8 and E-9 are technically 2.5 percent and 1.5 percent respectively, adding up to 4 percent. Coincidence? I think not.”