OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. —
Nearly 50 non-commissioned officers (NCO) and petty officers (PO) assigned to U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and the 55th Wing attended the inaugural NCO/PO joint professional development seminar at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, January 24-25.
During the seminar, NCOs and POs learned about leadership expectations and techniques from a variety of guest speakers, including U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of USSTRATCOM.
“One of the most amazing things about the United States military is that the power of our military is the enlisted force; the power of our military is the NCO corps,” Hyten said.
“You walk around this base today, and you watch where the work is actually done, the work is done with you,” he added. “We expect you to lead your soldiers, your sailors, your airmen, your Marines. We expect you to take charge, you have a job to do - lead them and accomplish that mission. That is the power of the force that we have, the most incredible power. Because of that delegation of authority, we can do remarkable things.”
Hyten also highlighted the “incredible responsibility” of NCOs and POs to not only lead down, but up as well.
“You’re walking into a place where officers will look to you for advice,” Hyten said. “You’re in a very exciting place in life, you’re walking into a place where you’re learning how to lead people. You’ve been doing it for a long time, now you’re going to be leading it. You can’t do anything more important than what we do, so I hope you love it.”
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Patrick McMahon, USSTRATCOM senior enlisted leader, said the impetus for the NCO/PO professional development seminar was “to continue to advance toward our command vision and the commander’s intent.”
“As we focus on a combat-ready force, the ability to develop our next generation of professionals for success in future conflicts is critical,” said McMahon. “Clearly our distinct advantage remains the professionals who serve our nation and it is imperative to develop leaders of competence, character and consequence. Deliberately focusing on our talented NCOs and POs provides an opportunity to continually evolve and reinforce that fact.”
In addition to the guest speakers, senior enlisted leaders from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps presented briefings on The Profession of Arms, Steward of the Institution, Complimenting the Officer, Enabling the Force, Service Identity and Joint Warfighting, and International Roles. Participants also took advantage of an opportunity to ask questions during a leadership panel featuring graduated commanders from those four services.
“Having the commanders here brings a different perspective that I never saw,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rene Caldwell, assigned to USSTRATCOM’s intelligence directorate. “The only aspect I’ve ever experienced came from traditional Army commands, how Army officers and non-commissioned officers see things. Here we have Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps non-commissioned officers and petty officers. Seeing how they deal with various issues including non-judicial matters was great for me.”
Caldwell added that he volunteered for the seminar because he saw it as an opportunity to learn more about the other elements within the joint environment, an experience he said might not have been otherwise available.
“I want to continue to build my knowledge base because as a leader, that’s the most important thing I have,” Caldwell said. “This is my first joint command, so I understand that I don’t know everything. This course gave me a lot of insight from a lot of other NCOs and petty officers from the different branches. Getting this information is definitely going to help me in the future with my leadership style, how I take on certain situations and how to deal with service members from different branches.”
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Young, executive assistant to the USSTRATCOM senior enlisted leader, described the benefits of exchanging ideas with other POs and NCOs in the command and from the various units at Offutt Air Force Base.
“It was an amazing opportunity to obtain insight from my peers as well as valuable information from senior enlisted leaders and officers across all branches of service,” he said. “I have learned motivation and leadership are complex challenges we, as NCOs and POs across the services, continually face. This course also reiterated the importance of leveraging our teammates across the Department of Defense. We are a joint team, ultimately striving towards the same mission.”
Like Caldwell, Young said he gained valuable skills and experiences that will help him throughout his military service.
“I continually add tools to my kit bag, and this course has allowed me to add a few more,” said Young. “I look forward to applying the knowledge and techniques learned through this course, both in my capacity at USSTRATCOM as well as when I return to my service.”
He also noted the significance of having combatant command senior leaders like Hyten and McMahon speak at the seminar.
“It was an amazing opportunity many mid-level enlisted members will never have the privilege to experience,” said Young. “It means a lot for a combatant commander and senior enlisted leader to take the time to spend with the NCOs/POs in and out of their organization. You can tell they truly appreciate and value the work and leadership of the NCO and PO.”
While the participants said they gained valuable insight and perspective from the NCO/PO professional development seminar, coordinating the event was not without its challenges.
U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Terrance Meekins, USSTRATCOM commandant, said finding time for NCOs and POs to attend the course – due to USSTRATCOM’s high operations tempo – was one of the hurdles of the pilot seminar. Despite this, he said the return on investment would benefit the command and the enlisted force in multiple ways.
“We’re returning the service members that you gave us to lead, train, guide and mentor as better products,” Meekins said. “It’s two days of the service member being gone, but just think of what you are getting back. Hopefully they’re going to retain the knowledge they gain from us and their peers, take that back to where they work and use it to develop the service members that work for them.”
Meekins said the training also supports integration across the joint environment and USSTRATCOM’s deterrence enterprise.
“This training supports Gen. Hyten’s priority to maintain a combat-ready force,” he said. “That’s exactly what we had in mind when we developed this professional military education (PME); his three priorities [strategic deterrence, decisive response and a combat-ready force]. We’re developing junior service members to become better joint leaders.
“We’re trying to make this world a joint world and joint environment because you want the best,” he added. “When we’re operating in different environments, if I can speak the Air Force language, or Navy language or Army language, it’s going to make me a better person. It helps bring us together to achieve our common goals.”
According to Meekins, USSTRATCOM leaders will continue to host the seminar and develop future enlisted leaders.
“We’re definitely going to do this more than once a year,” he said. “This is the pilot course for the type of PME that we’re trying to do here, and we hope to evolve from here.”
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Johnny Hamm, USSTRATCOM command first sergeant, agreed with Meekins’ sentiment, adding that the course “will make our force stronger and better equipped as leaders to lead our present and future warriors.”
“Our seminar gets after developing mission-ready warriors who are prepared and armed for today’s and tomorrow’s fight,” said Hamm. “I hope our NCOs and POs understand how important they, and their leadership, are for the defense of our nation.”