News Search


Commentary – NCOs echo through eternity

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joshua Strang
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
"What we do in life, echoes in eternity."

Taken from the film "Gladiator," General Maximus Decimus Meridius used these words to prepare his troops for battle. While the context of his words can be taken with different meanings, one internet review suggests it refers to the afterlife. The internet post suggests that if the troops fight bravely, they will be rewarded with fame and fortune after death. Although this could be a very real interpretation based on the movie's sequence, this quote can also serve a more grounded role in leadership, followership and a non-commissioned officer's role in the Air Force.

As New Year's Day becomes a memory, many people reminisce about the past year and make resolutions to carry them through the New Year. This is traditionally also a time of reflection. In the reflection of one's past is a mirror of who they are and where they came from. It is their echo in eternity.

Every day, an Airman leaves an echo from the events, actions and interactions of that day. Some thoughts and deeds are short lived in memory and can easily be forgotten. A few echoes of wisdom stretch time and are passed from generation to generation.  As a leader and a follower, NCOs have certain duties that drive the Air Force's mission. How they carry out those duties determines their echo.

Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, lays the framework of an NCO's responsibilities. It states that NCOs must "lead and develop subordinates and exercise effective followership in mission accomplishment."  Good leadership is key to a successful military unit and transcends all branches of service.

Leadership is fluid and one approach does not work with all people. I recently had the privilege of completing a special duty assignment as a technical training school instructor. As such, my team was responsible for the graduation of over 220 students from all branches of service as well as civilians and international trainees. I was responsible daily for keeping my instructor team motivated as well as keeping students engaged who ranged in age from 18 to 40. The way to approach a situation with an 18-year-old female airman first class is not the same as a 35-year-old male major from a foreign country. Although the approaches were different, the leadership ideals of promoting esprit de corps, fostering good relations and staying involved with subordinates on a daily basis, still applied. To this day, hearing from those students, and having them tell you how something you said or did in turn helped them in a real-world situation, is incredibly motivating. It is a humbling feeling to know a few lessons we taught continue to echo.

Although leadership is a valuable asset, being a good follower is also paramount. AFI 36-2618, also known as "The Little Brown Book," spells out an NCO's role in followership.

The Book states that NCOs must "demonstrate effective followership by enthusiastically supporting, explaining and promoting leaders' decisions." Effective followership does not always mean blind followership. As the AFI goes on to read, "Develop innovative ways to improve processes and provide suggestions up the chain of command that will directly contribute to unit and mission success." The key to good followership is open and honest communication up and down the chain of command. The role of an NCO is to be the conduit between leadership and junior Airmen.

As an instructor, there is constant flow of information downward. You are informed daily on your instructor techniques, new course content, new school house or student detachment policies as well as service-wide changes that need to be implemented. The flow also comes up. As instructors, we became the parents of up to 24 trainees at a time. We began to hear all of their personal and professional issues. Although it is a seemingly daunting task, it can also become one of the most honored parts of being an instructor. It means they trusted and believed in us. If a trainee had a legitimate issue that needed to be taken up the chain, my team did everything in their power to make sure this trainee's voice was heard.

It is the responsibility of NCOs to sometimes take the feedback of subordinates and up-channel concerns to leadership for corrective actions. As one of the NCO Charges states, NCOs "are charged with remaining alert to detecting adverse morale trends and initiating corrective action within your control, providing appropriate feedback to superiors." Good followership can echo through subordinates who will someday take care of their Airmen as well as they were taken care of.

Being an Airman can be an incredible adventure. Being an NCO of Airmen is an honor that should not be taken lightly. If NCOs fail, the mission suffers greatly. NCOs are the backbone of the force and need to know their Airmen as well as understand their leadership. We are the first-line leaders and mentors of tomorrow's leaders. An ancient proverb states: "An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep." In the New Year, all Air Force NCOs need to follow smartly, lead from the front and have a lion's roar which echoes in eternity.