A service-before-self mentality

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Tyrone Davis
  • AETC, Low-Observable Aircraft Maintenance Functional Manager
Do you have a service-before-self mentality? Do you take advantage of leadership opportunities? If you were nominated for a Developmental Special Duty, how would you respond if it was in a role you felt uncomfortable with? Would you volunteer to go on a deployment today if the opportunity presented itself?

Back in May of 2008, my squadron superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Whynot, was nice enough to ask me if I wanted to go on a deployment. At the time of the inquiry, I was taking two classes toward my master's degree in human resource management and I had some personal issues I was trying to work through so I answered, "Negative." Subsequently, Chief Whynot and I had a very long and productive conversation about leadership, my role in the organization and the potential barriers or excuses I used as to why I should not go. He helped me work through my concerns and convinced me that I was the right person, at the right time, with the right skills to go on the deployment. So I did.

While at the deployed location, I was the section chief for the aircraft structural maintenance back shop and was responsible for leading 35 Airmen. Collectively, we completed over 5,000 structural repairs supporting over 100 Coalition aircraft. We had a phenomenal 93 percent quality assurance pass rate and an incredible 99 percent maintenance mission effectiveness rate. Ultimately, we facilitated over 6,300 combat missions and the offloading of 150 million pounds of fuel in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. As a result of our success, I was also able to take care of some great maintainers; some great Airmen! I wrote 11 Air Force Achievement Medals, a Commendation Medal, and we constantly won Airman/NCO/Team of the Month awards. Furthermore, on a weekly basis, a distinguished visitor, chief, or commander stopped by our shop to coin or praise my Airmen for making such a positive impact on the mission. To this day, I still receive phone calls and e-mails from those great Airmen I had the honor and privilege of serving with.

My initial response when the Chief asked if I wanted to go on the deployment was not consistent with having a service-before-self mentality. Nobody likes change, and I was not the exception. To this day however, that deployment has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and I will never forget what we accomplished together as a team. In some aspects, I guess you can say that the deployment was similar to what we refer to today as a DSD assignment. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. Speaking of DSD assignments, I also had the honor of being a technical school instructor and an additional-duty first sergeant.

As a technical school instructor I was given an opportunity to lead in my career field. After being in the aircraft structural maintenance career field for more than 16 years, I believed in my heart that I could give back and make a difference in some small way by teaching others a craft I cared so passionately about. It was the right decision and turned out to be a great experience. The assignment broadened my perspective of aircraft structural maintenance repair techniques. I learned more about instructional system development, writing objectives/tests, counseling approaches, time/resource management and communication (writing and speaking) while leading and developing Airmen. As an additional-duty first sergeant, I interacted with professional military education commandants, career assistance advisors, Family Advocacy representatives, Security Forces, Area Defense Counsel representatives, Airmen & Family Readiness Center representatives, Office of Special Investigations, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program managers. The exposure and experience was priceless. It provided me with yet another opportunity to learn more about the mission and services of other key agencies, which equipped me with the knowledge to better assist, refer, and take care of our Airmen so they could focus on the mission. So here's my leadership perspective and foot stomp when it comes to deployments and DSD assignments:

Deployments and DSD's provide unique opportunities for high-caliber Airmen to lead. Therefore, if you get selected for a deployment or nominated for a DSD, look at it as a leadership opportunity. It will be good for your personal and professional development, regardless of rank. Be motivated about the task of making a difference in your career field, your squadron, your wing and ultimately your Air Force. One day, you will be the right person, at the right time, with the right skills to develop and lead Airmen. Think "service before self" and take advantage of that opportunity.

Initially, you might feel somewhat apprehensive about what the outcome will be or even how effective you may be in your new role. That's OK, in fact, perfectly normal since change inevitably forces people out of their comfort zone. Remember, we have formal and on-the-job training programs to help bridge any gaps to ensure we set our Airmen up for success. Make no mistake about it though, you will be in a prestigious position to mold, shape, and grow our future leaders and warriors. Consider it an honor, a privilege, and a sign that your leadership sees the potential in you to do more than you ever thought you could.

Complaining or making excuses is easy and mundane. Conversely, challenging yourself to make a difference takes real courage, sacrifice, and a service-before-self mentality. If you are selected for a deployment or nominated for a DSD, pull yourself out of that comfort zone and display some Airmanship (mindset and behaviors that cause us to proudly exhibit the highest levels of professionalism in service to our country). Rest assured, it will be one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences in your career and possibly your life. One never knows what leadership opportunities the future may hold. However, the best way to predict the future is to help shape and create it. Think service-before-self!