Making your business ‘people’ not mission: Message to my team

by 1st Lt. Clay Lancaster
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Trust is the most valuable currency an officer can earn. It’s a medium of exchange that never devalues and one a leader cannot afford to be without. The mission will always continue, but to earn the trust of those around you is what this business is all about. It’s an intangible that cannot be measured, yet minimizes risk and maximizes mission effectiveness.

I pulled my Trapper Keeper out three years ago and wrote two goals down during my first week at Ramstein: to have my team want to work with me again and to thrive, not survive, at Ramstein. The former is, yet again, an intangible that cannot be measured. I’m writing this commentary today to say the latter was a success due to some amazing NCOs, Airmen and German local national employees — my team.

When I first arrived at Ramstein, there was a common saying being thrown around and I’m certain those reading this have heard it: “All you have to do is survive Ramstein, and the rest of your career will be a cakewalk.” I never subscribed to that saying, and looking back on it, this message was a terrible way to start my first assignment as an officer. I never wanted to “just survive” here or anywhere. I wanted to thrive and exceed expectations. I wanted my team to thrive and exceed expectations. If you’re reading this and you’re the type who likes to tread water and just survive, I encourage you to do some reflecting and re-evaluate whether you are in the right business. The Air Force deserves better, and you owe it to your Airmen to start swimming, not treading, with a heading and objective in mind.


What I learned in the three years here is we are in the business of people. We are in the profession of arms, and the mission is a byproduct or result. But caring for the team is where the rubber meets the road. I didn’t always take care of my team here, but I learned from those mistakes. I learned from those mistakes because I had a team that cared about me and NCOs and mentors who sat me down and showed me the way. I also learned my team was always there to pick me up and never let me fail; for that I’m grateful and thankful. A leader’s job is to not have all the answers. A leader’s job is to build and maintain the strongest team possible to support the mission and commanders. A leader’s job is to create an atmosphere which welcomes discussion and dialogue where your Airmen feel comfortable enough to engage and dissent. These are not traits that were taught at my commissioning source, and I did not show up to Ramstein with these in my tool chest. Again, my team showed me the way.

What I learned here is how to care more about Airmen and make my business people, not mission. My message and charge to those reading this is as follows: First, thank you, and I would work with each and every one of you again if given the opportunity; second is be yourself and keep doing what you all have been doing for three years, which is continuing to be phenomenal Airmen; and finally, never tread water or “just survive,” because you all are better than that. I’ll leave you with a quote from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III in 2013 during U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s assumption of command: “Airpower, like mustard on a bratwurst!” You all epitomized airpower during my time here, and you will all be missed. I trust you all. Tschuess!