In the sixth year of my 21-year Air Force career, I became seriously disgruntled. I asked my unit first sergeant if he had some time to meet with me and talk it over.
Our first sergeant was rumored to have crossed over from the Marines. He was very coarse and frank, but I always found his feedback honest and candid. I knew he wouldn’t steer me wrong.
In the shirt’s office, I got right to the point. I told him I felt surrounded by (expletive) – weak and incompetent people. I got a little carried away and told him I had begun to perceive the Air Force in general as a lot of the same. I had decided I didn’t want any part of it. I told him what I saw in the Marine Corps was a team built on honor, pride, professionalism and grit. That’s what I wanted to be part of and I hoped he would somehow sponsor me in.
He listened to every word, and I felt he was right there with me on the subject. I just knew he understood my point of view and was surely about to offer me his total and unyielding support toward a future in the Marine Corps. After allowing me to finish, he looked right through me, and when he leaned out over his desk and rested on his elbows, I noticed for the first time that he had a little vein bulging out on his forehead.
He spoke rather quietly at first. He said, “Do you know what I think? I think you’re the (expletive). I think you lack the required confidence in yourself, or perhaps you’re just too lazy to try to make a difference here. You want to take the easy road. You want to go where someone else has had to do the paving.”
He continued, “If you don’t like what you see, then you need to change it by making a difference any way you can. Start with No. 1. Set the example every day, and others will follow. You make a difference in the leadership you provide to your subordinates, and you will make a difference for years to come.”
I re-enlisted in the Air Force a few months later, and I have tried to put the advice he provided to use in my career every day. I determined that ownership is what stands to make the biggest impact in a unit.
I am now convinced that when you actually buy-in to an organization, it becomes part of you. You will go the extra mile to make your organization a success, because your organization and its successes, or failures, are your own.
My first sergeant sponsored me indeed, but he sponsored me into the Air Force. He walked me to the mirror and showed me what I had not seen. He challenged me to not only make a difference, but to be the difference. In short, he introduced me to ownership, and since that day I have been an American Airman.