Stories that build relationships

by Lt. Col. James D. Reaves 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander

As another year approaches its end, it is time to reflect on the accomplishments and opportunities we had this past year.

I couldn’t help but reflect upon all the amazing “stories from the road” that were shared with me over these past few months. When I took command of the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron in June, I was excited about the challenges of command yet unaware of the true scope of our squadron’s mission. In these past few months, my appreciation for this unit has quickly grown into real admiration.

After a brief whirlwind of introductions and a tour of the squadron, I was able to get out and about to ask our Airmen to tell me their best story since coming to the unit. When the first story relayed to me began with the statement “so there I was … ,” I was a bit hesitant about what was coming next.

What followed, however, was a story about the Airman overcoming challenges that not only required his technical expertise but also coordination with the Polish air force to use equipment for repairs. Needless to say, I was impressed with this Airman’s story, which made me curious about what other amazing stories there were to be shared.

It did not take me long to find out, but I was humbled by the number of similar stories shared by our Airmen. I was also a bit overwhelmed by all the places they had been enhancing our joint partnership capacity. Stories were shared about air frames as different as the C-130J Super Hercules and C-40C and about locations spanning all across Europe.

I was shocked that the stories shared with me were equally expansive and included stops in places such as Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Uganda, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Algeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Kenya and more.

In hearing these stories, I noticed a common theme in the amount of pride that each Airman had in the work they did to keep our aircraft, and our mission, in the air. Some reminisced about having to land on austere runways with limited lighting and facilities, others about their interactions with senior leaders and foreign dignitaries, and others about the times they trained members of an allied military service on aircraft maintenance.

After hearing these stories, it would be impossible not to come away with a real admiration and, yes, even a little bit of envy for what these Airmen experienced and accomplished in order to keep our aircraft flying.

Reflecting upon these stories is more important now than it has ever been before. These stories represent our Air Force’s effort to build a shared community and purpose in Europe, Africa and further abroad through shared experiences and a common understanding.

In the process of building these stories, we also build relationships that strengthen not only a common purpose but, more importantly, friendships. Our mission may be to “Fly, Fight and Win,” but nothing says we have to do it alone.

The similar goals of these allies will be much easier to accomplish with partners who are both willing and able to take on that mission by our side. So as we reflect on the stories we’ve built this year, let’s also start thinking about our resolutions for next year and the new stories we will build in the future.