Leading at all levels

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Every Airman is a leader. I recently attended my brother-in-law's graduation from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, with my wife. I am an Air Force officer just over the halfway point of a 20-year career and she is a former Air Force officer who now serves as a Department of Defense civilian (and my better half). My mother-in-law also attended the graduation. She retired from the Air Force as a master sergeant and is now working as a DOD contractor. As I watched the pass-and-review and listened to the marching band rocking a patriotic medley, I considered how each of us leads and influences people in different ways.

My brother-in-law, Keith, is at technical school right now, learning the ins-and-outs of his career field. I got to see him interact with his flight-mates during graduation and I was shocked at how much more confident and assertive he had become over those few short weeks of basic training (short to me, not to him, I'm sure). I know the other "one and two-stripers" will come to look up to him and he'll learn just as much from them. I look forward to watching him grow as an Airman and a leader as he gains experience and starts influencing his comrades and eventually his own eager-to-learn subordinates.

My mother-in-law was once a newly-blued Airman herself. Over her 20-plus year career she deployed and changed stations numerous times, worked the long but rewarding hours of an intelligence Airman and worked for bosses who either killed or thrilled the spirit. Those experiences added up to a rich career which she shared with her peers, subordinates and leaders to help them however she could. She was an inspiration to her fellow enlisted Airmen and, as prescribed by Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, she "helped leaders make informed decisions" and even "supported commissioned officers' continued development by sharing knowledge and experience." This amazing wingman, leader and warrior also inspired two of her equally amazing kids to join the world's greatest Air Force. Throughout her various roles and positions she found ways to lead others to accomplish their goals.

My wife, Cheryl, was a better Airman and officer than I will ever be and I'm lucky to have her as my teammate and advisor. As an officer, she led and mentored diverse groups of Air Force professionals and directly supported several installation and wing commanders. As my spouse and partner, she is my sounding board, my conscience, my cheerleader and career advisor. I didn't realize how badly I needed these things until I met her, but I have seen myself develop as a leader, follower, teammate and all-around professional with her at my side. Like her mom, she has never turned down an opportunity to positively influence others.

As a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, I participated in study groups with my peers and followed my instructors' advice on whether an Air Force career would suit me. As a lieutenant, I visited high schools, encouraging JROTC cadets to help each other via study groups and gave advice on the Air Force as a career choice. As a wingman, I have compared notes with my peers and shared learning opportunities. As a good brother-in-law, I got to advise Keith on whether the Air Force was right for him (I even got to administer his Oath of Enlistment over webcam from Alaska to Virginia). As an Equal Opportunity Director at my last base, I personally influenced the installation commander's decisions.

In each of these roles, I had to recognize what needed to be done, what was expected of me and how I could meet those needs. Whether you are a new recruit, a seasoned veteran, a heavily seasoned retiree, a DOD Civilian, a dependent or otherwise, strive to recognize where you can lead at your level and always give it your all. You may be surprised how profoundly you can influence the mission and inspire the people around you.