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A Fresh Perspective

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Adrian Davis
  • 43rd Medical Group Superintendent
As we sit on the brink of Pope's BRAC transition, changing duty stations has become a hot-button topic across base. Having relocated 10 times during my career, I want to share my perspective on some of the lessons I've learned through changing bases. Relocating can be extremely stressful on military members and their families because it's about more than just switching bases. It affects everything - from your confidence level within your duty section to selling your house and changing schools. During discussions about assignments, I meet people at both ends of the spectrum. Some have a desire to leave, while others would rather stay put. My good friend referred to relocating as "a necessary evil." I see it as a good thing; it's definitely necessary to help meet the mission, maintain our force and freshen our perspectives. Today I can stand boldly and speak those words without blinking an eye, but that wasn't always the case.
Flash back to July 12, 1991 - I was fresh off of evacuating Clark Air Base, Philippines - thanks to the Mount Pinatubo eruption. I sat in "Safe Haven" status, awaiting reassignment to my next duty location. This was especially trying for me because I loved being assigned to Clark AB and had no desire to relocate. Why should I desire to move? Clark was the ideal assignment. We worked hard, but played just as hard. So to say I was a little disappointed at the thought of having to leave is a gross understatement. It took several weeks for me to come to grips with the fact that I was definitely relocating; and odds were, I was not returning to the Philippines to help restore Clark AB, as I had repeatedly envisioned in my mind. Finally, the suspense was over. It was official; I was heading to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. I can recall thinking, "where in the world is that?" Again, I had zero desire to move to Texas, or anywhere else for that matter. I was perfectly fine at Clark AB. While I had heard that Texas was very big and a great country, I did not want to go. Little did I know this assignment would change my life.
At this small base, I was given my first opportunity to formally lead and supervise. I was allowed to manage programs I had read about in my career development course training manuals and inspection preparation guides, but had never personally seen. I met my mentor - the person who would mold, shape and challenge me to become relevant in our Air Force - before I even knew what a mentor was. And last but not least, I married my beautiful wife - all at Laughlin AFB. I learned quickly not to prejudge a place or underestimate the value of a process that positively impacted my life in so many areas.
Until my Laughlin AFB encounter, I was convinced that everything was all about me. I say this because my wants, needs and desires seemed to be all that mattered. My commitment to the Air Force and to my role as an NCO was severely lacking. I had no interest in becoming a better Airman, pursuing any type of professional development, making the Air Force a better place or being a positive voice within my sphere of influence. In retrospect, the journey through Laughlin AFB allowed me to reflect and see some of the flaws I grew up under, which negatively influenced my perspective and caused me to lose focus and become content with mediocrity.
The first was the value of learning and teaching. As an Airmen, my supervisor felt that there was no value in training an airman 1st class on anything important. He constantly reminded me that any thoughts I had on improving any process needed to remain just that - my thoughts. Under his reign, I often felt frustrated and useless. When I became a supervisor, I vowed to never bypass an opportunity to learn, teach or train. If done with a sincere heart, the seeds sown and time invested will pay dividends for the member and the Air Force.
Secondly, I grew up in a career field in which the worker bees - mostly Airmen - worked 12 plus hours, five to six days a week. I recall eating carry-out breakfast, lunch and dinner from plastic containers in the break area in hopes that if we started early enough and ate while we worked, we would get to go home at a semi-decent time. I remember hearing my co-workers say "it sure would be nice if someone appreciated something we did." That was a lesson learned for me during that season. I realized the value of people and promised to never take the people I come in contact with for granted and to never miss an opportunity to say "thank you" or "I appreciate you." While it's true that we all collect a paycheck for services rendered, a supervisor taking the time to recognize his or her troops for a job well done is priceless and irreplaceable.
Lastly, transitioning from Laughlin AFB taught me the value of change. During my Airman years, I remember dedicating many nights and weekends to researching and documenting methods to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our daily operation. I'll admit that some of my efforts were self-serving. I was tired of pulling 60 to 70 hours each week. Nevertheless, we at the "grass and weed" level saw a definite need for change. As with most of my other bright ideas, this one didn't go far either. I was labeled a "troublemaker" and a "pot stirrer." I guess the natives were already antsy, and I just added fuel to their fire. I was later told by one of the other NCOs that my supervisor perceived me as a threat because the process we used was his idea and had been the same for almost 15 years. While others complained and talked about change, no one had the courage to actually speak out about it. Another lesson learned: change is not a bad thing. If it works and makes us more effective, it doesn't matter whose idea it is. I thank God for the trial. It helped me develop an image of the type of supervisor I desired to be.
The seeds sown in my life at Laughlin AFB gave me a fresh perspective. I was forced to decide which type of Airman I wanted to be: one who wore the uniform, collected a check and did just enough to get by, or one who went above and beyond and tried to make a difference.
Relocating to Laughlin AFB was the catalyst that set me on the path I'm on today. Although I was perfectly happy and content at Clark AB, I realize now that I was on the path to nowhere - at a lightning fast pace and destined to be that supervisor no one wanted. The door that was opened for me through the Mount Pinatubo eruption was just what I needed to force me off my comfortable position on the fence.
It's certain that many of us will have to relocate under BRAC and, chances are, it may be to a place we have no desire to move to. Regardless, do not despise the journey, for therein lies the lesson. It's not on the mountain top, but in the valley where our character is defined and our direction realized.