EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
“Airmen are made into leaders like you forge steel into a sword. They get a little nick, you iron it out and sharpen it. Most people won’t see the process of how you became a senior leader; bang the steel, put it in cold water and let it cool, heat it up and sharpen.”
- Chief Master Sgt. Alvin Dyer
Chief Master Sgt. Alvin Dyer, the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron superintendent, didn’t always have the ambition to become a chief master sergeant in the Air Force. His original plan was to play college basketball.
“I didn’t get recruited for the school I wanted to play for, so I said I wasn’t going to go,” said Dyer. “A year prior, my brother joined the Air Force and was stationed at Lakenheath. I talked to him about it over Christmas break.”
The stories his brother was telling him, coupled with not playing college basketball led Dyer to make the decision to join the Air Force.
“I joined the summer of my senior year in high school,” said Dyer. “Two months before graduation, I was in the delayed entry program, and a couple weeks after graduation, I shipped off to basic training. It’s been great ever since.”
The Journey to Chief
Dyer’s plan for the Air Force was to do ‘four no more,’ meaning he would be in for four years and then separate.
“I wanted to learn a skill or craft and then go back to the civilian work force and be successful in that way,” said Dyer. “I had zero ambitions to become a chief. At my first base, we didn’t even have a chief around, only a senior master sergeant, so I didn’t have anything to aspire to be.”
It wasn’t until Dyer went to his next base that a his attitude changed. He wasn’t so sure doing four years and separating was the way to go.
“My first supervisor was my light switch, he was sharp as a tack,” said Dyer. “Slowly, after talking with him for a while, things started to change.”
The magic words Dyer remembers his supervisor saying were, “You have leadership potential that you don’t even know.”
“When I was selected to go to Airman Leadership School, I had no idea what it was, or anything it entailed,” said Dyer. “I had no idea what to expect, but I had a blast. At graduation, I was selected for a leadership award, and I was totally blown away.”
At that moment, when his supervisor came back and said, “I told you so,” Dyer said it really resonated with him; he could do something bigger.
Through the adventures of making rank, getting married and having kids, Dyer explained his biggest obstacle was balance.
“It’s so difficult to balance family and the flag,” said Dyer. “It’s an everyday struggle. Before I had a wife and kids, I was all-in and it was easier because I had nobody to be accountable for but myself, but it still left no time to call home or even visit during the holidays.”
Dyer explained through the years, he found a system that works for him, something which helped him and his family with stability.
“I break my day up into eight hour chunks,” said Dyer. “Eight hours of work, eight hours of family, eight hours of sleep, but it doesn’t always even out that way. We always sit down and talk about it, and when family time comes, that’s my important thing to focus on.”
As Dyer says to anyone who has family, wears the uniform, and wants to be successful in doing both, the key is balance and communication.
“Prepare as if you’re going to stay in,” said Dyer. “When I have my mentoring sessions, I always make sure to ask what they want to do when they leave the Air Force, because we all have a shelf life.”
Dyer continued to explain there’s going to be a point when the Air Force taps you on the shoulder and says, “Well done and thank you for your service.”
“But I say, that’s where life begins,” said Dyer. “We’ve been given everything we need for the outside, so how do we prepare for it? If you’re always thinking with that mindset, you could do 4 years, 6 years, 10 years, or 30 years, but you’ll be prepared when the time comes.”
If an Airmen wanted to become a biophysicist, Dyer said it’s important to know, so they aren’t set up for a degree in pavements or maintenance.
“We’re going to get the best out of our Airmen while also setting them up for life after the Air Force,” said Dyer. “So prepare as if you’re going to leave, and prepare as if you’re going to stay.”
It’s important that supervisors have credibility with their Airmen, Dyer said.
“The age old saying of ‘know your people,’ comes to mind,” said Dyer. “Knowing your people is not knowing what kind of car they drive, or what time their shifts begin and end. The biggest part of knowing your people, is letting your people know you.”
When a supervisor opens up to their Airmen, and lets them know what things they once struggled with, those Airmen may come to see they aren’t the first to deal with whatever problems they are facing.
“Letting them know you weren’t always a good Airmen, or you did dumb things, let’s them know it’s okay, and can possibly even pull them out of a slump,” said Dyer. “Reward good actions, because it’ll become easier to let them know if they did something wrong. Build them up as they continue on with their career.”
In the End
As Airmen of all ranks continue on with their career, there may be times when problems arise, success happens or disappointment sinks in, but Dyer said it’s all part of the journey.
“Our Airmen know how to get the mission done,” said Dyer. “So if we, as leaders, tap into that and make the Airmen our mission, it becomes easier for them to do their mission.”
Dyer believes there is no Airman who wants to fail and no Airman who wakes up in the morning and says “I’m not going to do a good job today.”
“As leaders, we put the focus on our people and ensure they are the ones getting their mission done,” said Dyer.