Enlisted leaders, past, present shape future USAFE chiefs

Master Sgt. Chuck Roberts
Contributing writer

As they prepare to sew on their final stripe, 67 Airmen who attended the U.S. Air Forces in Europe 2006 Chiefs’ Orientation gleaned insight from leaders past and present – including retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Sam E. Parish and Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the first senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“What I got the most benefit from was  leaders such as Chief Parish and Command Sgt. Maj. Gainey coming in and telling us what’s expected of us as future chiefs, and preparing us for the responsibility we’re about to take on,” said Senior Master Sgt. Cynthia Wyatt, USAFE Professional Military Education Programs manager.

From Chief Parish, the eighth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, Sergeant Wyatt said she took to heart his advice to “tell leaders what they need to hear and not what they want to hear.”

From Army Command Sgt. Maj. Gainey, Sergeant Wyatt said she appreciated the opportunity not only to learn about the new position of senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, but to hear leadership principles from a sister service.

Each service submitted four candidates for the senior enlisted advisor job, and five finalists were interviewed.

The command sergeant major described his role as an overseer of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. For example, if he sees a problem or a positive practice in a particular service branch, Command Sgt. Maj. Gainey said he will talk with his counterparts in the other services and find out if they’re experiencing the same successes or confronting the same issue.

His message before the senior enlisted USAFE leaders of tomorrow – six of whom had already sewn on chief − focused on commitment and caring for and developing young enlisted leaders of tomorrow.

To best develop the future force, Command Sgt. Maj. Gainey advised providing young Airmen with the responsibility they both need and desire. And along with that responsibility, he said, should go the corresponding authority to get the job done. However, along with authority also comes accountability that should apply just as much when servicemembers succeed as when they fail.

“They’re going to stumble, but you’re going to stand your young Airmen up again and get them up the hill. And when they get to the top, you brush them off and say ‘good job’ and you go down the other side of the hill and leave them in charge,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Gainey.

“I think that’s right on key and something he needs to keep on pushing,” said Senior Master Sgt. Peter Stone, superintendent of the air logistics operation division for 16th Air Force.

Sergeant Stone said he felt privileged to learn additional leadership principles from Chief Parish, who served as chief master sergeant of the Air Force from August 1983 to June 1986.

Chief Parish told his audience of future chiefs they need to be leaders and not managers. Being a leader and a chief go hand in hand, he said, but it doesn’t necessarily come easy.

“Leadership is an art that you must learn to master,” Sergeant Stone said of the message he took away from his speech.

The words, messages and speeches weren’t all necessarily new for Sergeant Stone, but he said the timing and the manner in which they were presented will prove a valuable tool as he advances to the highest enlisted rank.

“This just really sent it home,” said Sergeant Stone.
Senior Master Sgt. Dan Frazier agrees.

“It was absolutely time well spent,” said the vehicle maintenance superintendent from the 435the Vehicle Readiness Squadron. “The course provided me an insider’s perspective on what challenges and expectations I should expect as I enter into this demanding rank. It really set the stage for my transition to becoming a chief.

“This orientation, coupled with the Chief’s Leadership Course I’ll be attending next month, once again demonstrates the Air Force’s commitment into making me a better leader. In essence, I’ll be a greater benefit to the troops I work for sooner.”

Sergeant Frazier said he also agrees with Command Sgt. Maj. Gainey’s advice on giving young Airmen responsibility along with the authority and support they need.

“We all need to employ the support, patience and leadership to allow our replacements to grow into their roles of our extremely demanding profession,” Sergeant Frazier said.

And the words of Chief Parish, he said, were like marching orders for the group: “Get to the task of leading your troops and keeping senior leadership informed on the issues of the enlisted force.”