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Chief’s advice: Take care of your people

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Staff Sgt. Samantha Krolikowski)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Staff Sgt. Samantha Krolikowski)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- After sitting in on dozens of professional development panels there is one question that always comes up, "What does it take to be a chief?"

Take care of your people. You may have noticed I said people rather than Airmen; this is because we work with enlisted, civilians and officers. I have seen as many different answers to this question as I've seen chiefs on the panels. We have all had different paths lead to where we are but, overwhelmingly, the theme to being a chief is taking care of your people. Our job is not just to represent enlisted under our charge but to assist civilians and officers to be successful.

Be a leader. You have to make staff sergeant, technical sergeant, master sergeant and senior master sergeant before you can become a chief master sergeant. Serve at the very best of your ability as a non-commissioned officer and senior non-commissioned officer. If your leaders see potential in you then your performance reports, awards, decorations and opportunities will reflect that. If you are a leader among your peers your leaders will push you forward and those promotions will come.

Study. The first time I tested for master sergeant, I was just back from the NCO Academy and had a brand new baby. My priorities were to take care of the family at this point and the books could wait until next year. I missed master sergeant by less than five points. I'm sure I could've found a way to take care of my responsibilities as well as carve out 60 minutes a day to increase my chances of promotion.

Finish your professional military education and civilian education early. As with investing, it seems there is never a good time to start PME or college classes. However, as we get older, more experienced and higher in rank, more is expected of us. Additionally, family should be a priority and later in life is not always the best time to complete these things.

Challenge yourself. Look for opportunities to operate outside your comfort zone; this may be in the form of a special duty, an additional duty, an opportunity in another unit or by being involved with a private organization. The unknown forces us to adapt to change; this will in turn improve your decision making abilities. A private organization also offers the opportunity to gather with likeminded individuals looking for challenges and gives you clout to help your folks within other organizations.

Often times the chain of command is represented by a triangle. The thought here is that the person on top gives orders, expectations and suspenses; everyone below finds a way to "make it happen." I offer that when you become a chief the triangle is inverted, with the chief at the bottom. My job is to make sure our people are trained, equipped and motivated to complete the mission. If one of these things is absent, mission failure is a high probability.

We have the best trained, equipped and knowledgeable military in the world. Our job as leaders is to motivate our people to give 100 percent to the protection and advancement of the United States.

I'll leave you with a quote from Sun Tzu who wrote the highly regarded "Art of War" in the 6th Century B.C., "Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death."

Take care of your people and they will take care of you.