The first 90 days: A new commander’s perspective

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jeff Ditlevson
  • 92nd Security Forces Squadron commander
In preparation for my first command, I talked to former bosses and current mentors and tried to meld my own experiences growing up as a junior Security Forces officer with theirs. One thing was abundantly clear from all three sources - despite my best efforts, I wouldn't be prepared for everything.

As one of the newer squadron commanders on base, I have only recently surpassed (survived) my first 90 days in the chair. Here are a few things that I have learned and experienced during my short time in this position:

1. I've worn my mess dress more in the past three months than I have the previous three years.

2. I can't be afraid to take action, because almost any action is better than inaction.

3. Two things, in particular, continue to put a smile on my face: presenting more stripes than I take and signing more re-enlistment paperwork than terminal leave paperwork.

4. To earn legitimacy from my squadron, peers and bosses I have to stand for something.

5. Don't be a boss, be a leader.

6. Not maintaining a Round Metal Object on my person has never been more risky and costly.

7. Never expect commitment from your people. They have to give it to you.

8. I used to enjoy blackberries on ice cream . . . now the 'b' word carries a whole new meaning.

9. Maintain a positive attitude and image at all times; because if you don't, your people will notice.

10. Use positive words whenever possible: people do pay attention.

12. Reward success; discipline repeat failures; reinforce responsibility; insist on results.

13. I should own stock in the services squadron (now part of the force support squadron) considering how much money I spend there.

14. Aim before you shoot.

14. Christmas is really on Sept. 30.

15. Chiefs and First Sergeants are irreplaceable.

16. Welcoming redeployers and sending off deployers can be equally emotional.

And those are just a few of the things I've learned and recognized during my short time in command. Of course, there are also the countless staff meetings, STACSWEB taskers and e-mails to read. On the other hand, there are never enough awards to present, decorations to pin or minutes in a day.

From the moment I arrived here at Fairchild, and almost without exception, I have been completely amazed by the collective attitude of the impressive men and women who proudly perform the array of functions and missions here every single day.

What's more impressive is that these same men and women (typically our young Airmen and non-commissioned officers) continue to perform those same functions and missions despite simultaneously being asked to perform a myriad of other functions such as helping prepare for inspection teams, distinguished visitors and, most recently, Inspector General exercises and an Operation Readiness Inspection preparation.

And yet, what's most impressive is that these men and women continue to stand in line for future deployments despite having been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and other "vacation spots" time and time . . . and time again.

Speaking from where I'm most familiar, I have many young defenders who are preparing to make their third or fourth trip back to one of the aforementioned locations. And what's remarkable is that they do so willingly despite the six-month rotations, typically preceded by two to four weeks at a regional training center, and the knowledge that their name will be thrown back in the hat shortly after they return home.

Fortunately, I am blessed with a tremendous group of Phoenix Spouses, a chaplain who lives in my building and about 200 hard-charging superstars who have learned, over time, to take care of each other and to do so at all costs.

So while I've learned and experienced many things as a new commander, one thing resonates day in and day out: We have an amazing young corps of Airmen and NCOs rising to standing tall at the call of their name. At a time when their service and country need them most, these young men and women represent what's best about the Air Force. Often, these heroes go un-appreciated and unrewarded for their efforts. Perhaps a bumper sticker or T-shirt theme could be "Have you thanked an Airman today?" Be sure to do that. They deserve it.