Meet the commander: Q&A with Col. David Smith

Meet the commander: Q&A with Col. David Smith

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Last month, Col. David Smith took command of the 419th Fighter Wing, bringing along with him his wife, Stacey, and their two daughters. Smith graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1992 and joined the Air Force Reserve in 2002, and has served both full time and part time as a reservist. 

Smith is on military leave from JetBlue, where he works as an airline pilot, and will serve here on extended orders for the next two to three years. I recently sat down with the new commander to discuss his leadership style and vision for the 419th FW. 

What kind of leader inspires you?

Leaders who inspire me are “hands off” leaders. You absolutely have to trust your group commanders and empower them to do their jobs, while fighting for the resources the troops need to accomplish the mission.

I want to be an inspirational leader who leads by example. My job satisfaction comes in making an organization better, helping people, helping Airmen get to the next level, giving commanders the tools they need to succeed. It’s what makes the Air Force family so great; we have camaraderie and that esprit de corps that sets us apart.

You’ve said selfless service is an important theme for you. Tell me why.

I believe in it. Obviously, service before self is one of our core values, but I come from a background where my family served in the Air Force. It’s about following in the tradition of serving my country.

During one of his TED Talks, (author) Simon Sinek uses Apple as an example. He says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” People aren’t going to be inspired to serve their country, or to go out and turn those wrenches every day just to get a plane airborne. But if they embrace why we’re doing it — to support and defend the constitution — then turning that wrench becomes more important, it becomes about defending a way of life and the freedoms we enjoy. I want people to be here for the right reasons.

Why did you make the shift to the AF Reserve in 2002?

My wife and I were both military members and she had just left the active duty. We wanted stability, to start a family, and to move back home (to Florida).

Talk about the Total Force. 

For the Air Force to function, we have to be integrated as a Total Force. Fiscally, it’s required if we’re going to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. That means leaning more on the Reserve component, which is a cost-effective force. I believe TFI (Total Force Integration) starts at the top. If leadership buys in, then it will trickle down to the Airmen who are doing the job every day. I’m totally committed to TFI, and I want to make sure we emphasize that we’re all equal players in the mission, which is to “fly, fight, and win.”

We (Air Force reservists) offer a solution to some of the problems the Air Force is facing. The biggest ones are personnel costs, which take up the majority of the DOD budget. To buy F-35s, next-generation bombers, and tankers, we have to save money on the personnel side. We’re going to have to rely on the Reserve.

What’s your vision for the wing?

Our number-one goal is for the F-35 to be IOC (initial operational capability) on time in August of 2016. So, my goal is to facilitate the fourth- to fifth-generation transition, while still accomplishing the current F-16 mission. While we’re waiting for the transition to go full circle, we still have to support the combatant commanders by providing combat airpower, as well as our MAJCOM (major command) commanders, both Air Force Reserve Command and Air Combat Command, with access to iron. Whether it’s an F-16 or F-35, we’re going to continue to support commander requirements and deploy Airmen downrange.

Tell me what we won’t find in your Air Force biography. Who is Dave Smith?

I’m a fitness guy. I enjoy the sport of triathlon — biking, swimming, running. In 2013, I did IRONMAN Lake Tahoe, and in 2015 I did IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant in Canada. And I’ve done many half IRONMAN, so that takes up a lot of my free time. And, of course, I enjoy spending time with my family. I also read military history, founding fathers, and leadership books, and I like to keep up with current events.

What do you think about Utah so far?

I love it. I like the seasons; I like to ski and hike. My wife and I lived on the Front Range in Colorado, so I think we’re really going to enjoy this area on the other side.

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