BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — While I’ve decided to live the child-free lifestyle, the Air Force, in its infinite wisdom, saw the need to issue me two kids. They are both straight out of technical training and brand new to the Air Force — and one is still too young to accept an adult beverage.
Let’s be honest: As children do, they totally cut into my “me time.”
In all seriousness, though, these Airmen are bright, young women with an incredible future ahead of them, and I am duty-bound to ensure that doesn’t change.
Perhaps like many supervisors, sometimes I feel like a parent. I am responsible for these ladies and their development as Airmen. I have a vested interest in their success and a powerful role in their morale.
Sometimes that responsibility is easy, but sometimes that responsibility bolts me into action in the middle of the night.
One of my Airmen calls me from the side of the busiest highway in Denver, nearly in tears, and tells me that she had just been in her first car accident. Like any good parent would do, I jump out of bed in my pajama pants and head out the door without thinking twice. In a flurry of hands-free phone calls to our first sergeant and my Airman, who is now backing up the highway for miles, we square everything away and get her back to base with the help of the police and a tow-truck driver.
It was after everything was taken care of and she was back in her room that I truly realized being a supervisor was about more than solving a problem.
It was time to listen. She had been through her first car accident ever. She was in a brand-new city. She was on her own for the first time. All things combined, I understood why she was so distraught. For me, this was a challenge to overcome; but for her, this may have been one of her most terrifying experiences. I knew I had to listen.
This experience taught me two valuable lessons. One, if my Airmen are in trouble, I need them to know that they can trust me to take care of them. And two, I need a new pair of pajama pants because crushed blue velvet went out of style two decades ago.
But how do I get these young Airmen to trust me? I am nearly 10 years older, and entire generation separates my interests from theirs. How can I relate?
I became the next Sherlock Homes, paying attention to the little details to find common ground. My investigative eye was on overdrive as I tried to learn more about my other Airman.
She is quieter and a bit less outspoken, but she is unbelievably artistic. Her talent with a drawing pencil makes me look like a preschooler with a crayon. What do a young, female Michelangelo and I have in common? During a dorm room inspection, I observe pop culture posters on the walls and spot her video game system; I can relate to that.
Paying attention to my Airman allowed me a glimpse into her life. Still, was this enough to get her to connect with the oldest person in her work center?
It came down to what my dad did with me for our father-son bonding. He introduced me to “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” ingrained classic rock into my head, and shared outlandish stories of his past. These moments brought me closer to him, so I thought it might work with my Airmen.
Well, now they know more 1980s music than they ever thought they would, and they have heard more “old-man” stories than they probably wished to hear. It took willingness from both sides to adapt, but at the end of the day, we built that Airman-supervisor connection.
I honestly feel that they can trust me. They can come to me not only with problems I can listen to or help solve, but also with the successes they have achieved. Hearing that they won an award or were lauded by the commander gives me the same level of joy and pride as they have. I am proud of my Airmen, and they have become more than a required responsibility to me.
The best thing I have found is that every supervisor can come to feel this way. All it takes is a desire to be a part of their Airmen’s lives and a genuine interest in their well-being.
For me, regardless of whether or not these young ladies are my blood, I wish only the best of success for my “daughters.”