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What will be your legacy?

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- One of a leader's greatest responsibilities is to make sure their subordinates are given the opportunity to acquire skills and tools to go as far in their careers as the leader, if not further. If this responsibility is not met, then the organization and its most valuable resource, people, go underserved by leadership.

For the Air Force, this means making sure every young airman or lieutenant is treated as if they will one day be a chief or commander, respectively.

Of course, not everyone rises to those objective ranks. Chiefs, for example, are limited to 1 percent of the enlisted force. But should that preclude our investment in Airmen to establish a career path and opportunity for them to achieve their fullest potential?

If you receive an Airman straight from technical training and think they are a four-year enlistee, would you only give them the opportunities for knowledge and skills to make it through just those four years? If so, then what would you do if they re-enlist for four more years? Repeat the short-sighted approach and only give them opportunity for knowledge and skills required to make it through those next four years? Of course not -- that would be ridiculous. However, that's what we do to many of our Airmen.

Regrettably, we only give them the skills and knowledge they need for the here and now.

Just get them through the task at hand and then we'll give them what they need for the next task. That may be what some Airmen want, but it is certainly not what any Airman needs; and it should not be what you want for them or for your unit.

Let's look at the prestigious senior NCO ranks. I have shaken the hands of master sergeant selectees and congratulated them with the phrase "well deserved," because as technical sergeants they were already performing as senior NCOs. Those NCOs had been shepherded by their chain of command toward their fullest potential and were on track to get there. Their leadership, formal and informal, had taken the time to groom them to be prepared for the roles and responsibilities of the next rank before they made the next rank. Those are the NCOs we all look forward to having in the senior NCO ranks.
However, there is another side to this coin. I have also congratulated master sergeant selectees on their promotion while wondering if the Air Force made a smart decision since, in my observation, these technical sergeants had not been performing as senior NCOs. Chances are WE -- their leadership -- had failed to prepare them for their next rank. We didn't take the time to mentor and groom them for greater roles and responsibilities, let alone to enter the senior NCO corps.

Too frequently, our Air Force finds itself with E-7s performing as technical sergeants ... not good, and certainly not what we need.

We need to begin Airmen development with the end state in mind. Start by asking yourself, "What do we expect from our chiefs and our commanders?" The strong leadership skills, sage decision making abilities, and exemplary character traits we all desire to see in our senior leadership, we need to start developing to the best of our ability when our Airmen first enter the Air Force. Front-line supervisors are far from having all of the skills necessary to make this happen, but that's okay, if the entire chain of command actively interacts with the Airmen.

As we undertake the development of each Airman toward being a chief or commander, the fruit of that labor can be very sweet. And if for some reason those we work with do not achieve their ultimate ranks ... I wouldn't count our efforts as failure.

Consider the great NCOs, senior NCOs or FGOs we will have had a hand in developing. That, in and of itself, should be worth the effort.

So what's your legacy to the Air Force? All the great things you accomplished, or all the great leaders you helped develop to keep the world's best Air Force the best?