WASHINGTON — “Why are you guys here?” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright asked the first-ever Air Force Element Senior Enlisted Leader Conference at the Pentagon.
More than 50 senior leaders from across U.S. combatant commands and the Joint Staff responded with answers ranging from networking to developing leaders—and they were correct.
During the three-day conference, attendees engaged with several Air Force senior leaders to focus on building joint leaders, using a whole government approach to enhance the mission and understand the senior leader perspective.
Of the five Air Force priorities—restore readiness; cost-effectively modernize; drive innovation; develop exceptional leaders; and strengthen alliances—the purpose of the conference was to develop leaders.
More specifically, “the purposeful development of those put into joint positions and bringing out the best of what they have learned when they return to the Air Force,” said the 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
Wright further explained some Airmen will have back-to-back joint assignments and others will return to the Air Force after a joint assignment.
“You have to stay plugged into the Air Force,” Wright said, “because your stripes and your badge represent that you’re an Airman and they expect you to understand airpower.”
“You represent all of us in a joint environment,” he added.
According to the Air Force’s Personnel Center, a standard joint duty assignment is in a multi-service, joint or multinational command or activity involved in the integrated employment or support of land, sea and air forces.
Wright’s second question to conference attendees was: “What is most important to enlisted Airmen?”
The room responded with answers along the lines of talent management, leadership, education and development, innovation and readiness—but this was more of a trick question.
The chief explained he doesn’t know the right answer; but he’s working with Air Force senior enlisted leaders to solidify one.
“We have real work to determine what the future holds for the Air Force and how we should be preparing,” Wright said. “We need to develop Airmen for the future and we need to develop leaders for the future.”
Something else the chief is working on is better management of joint assignments.
“We need to develop joint leaders and teams, but we don’t really have a system that captures every Airman who has served in a joint position or has attended joint service professional military education,” Wright said. “We need a system that puts the right people in (the right) joint jobs at the right time.”
Wright’s final question was: “What is the most important leadership skill?”
His answer was “learning.”
“You should be constantly learning and assessing the environment,” Wright continued. “In a joint environment, the processes may be unfamiliar and the culture may be unfamiliar, but if you’re not learning, you’re moving backward.”