By Staff Sgt. Don Branum, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published October 05, 2009
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Academy's command chief master sergeant met with enlisted Airmen here during a pair of enlisted calls Sept. 23 and 24 at the base theater.
Chief Master Sgt. Todd Salzman switched back and forth between humor, passion and businesslike straight talk during his conversations with servicemembers from the Academy's direct reporting unit and 10th Air Base Wing.
"Let me say right off the bat how impressed I've been with the good things you do," Chief Salzman said. "We have a unique mission at the Air Force Academy, and I expect you to understand what you do here and why it's so important."
The enlisted call covered Air Force-wide topics of interest as well as the chief's personal philosophy on Airmanship. One of the first points of discussion was the Air Force priorities, the topmost of which is reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise.
"We need to get back to a compliance-driven, accountability-based culture," Chief Salzman said. "In my Strategic Air Command days, if you screwed up a nuclear alert, you were automatically in front of the wing commander -- it didn't matter whether you were an Airman with one stripe on your sleeve."
The United States has had to change how it fights in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the increased deployment tempo is only part of the transformation, Chief Salzman said.
"This is a war that will last a long time," he said. "We're not just fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're also combating drugs in South America and extremism in Africa and the Philippines. We're out there so girls won't be shot in front of their schools. Think of your daughters and the kind of life you would want for them -- that's what we're out there trying to provide. People need something more to hang onto than violence -- that's what we're really doing. We're giving them something better."
Moreover, adversaries in cyberspace have forced the U.S. to rethink how it uses its networks.
"Everything we do is connected to a computer system," he said. "We didn't have this problem in 1981 and 1982 because if you broke your number-two pencil, you turned it around and sharpened the other end. Today, we rely on our networks for everything we do, and the 10th Communications Squadron folks can tell you, a lot of people want to take down our networks. So think about what Web pages you're viewing, what e-mail attachments you're opening up. Make sure you're taking operations security and computer security seriously when you're talking about them."
Chief Salzman asked Airmen to re-examine the "why" of their day-to-day operations.
"Look at the things you're doing everyday and ask, 'Why am I doing this?'" he said. "You don't have time to do something that isn't meaningful. You have the authority to ask questions. You have the authority to find a better way."
The chief added that while Airmen should suggest changes to their leadership, they are still obligated to follow orders until such policies are changed. Followership, the chief stressed, is part of leadership.
Airman 1st Class Hendrick Martinez, a patroller with the 10th Security Forces Squadron, expanded on the chief's followership message.
"Regardless of how many stripes you have, we all need to complete the mission," said Airman Martinez, who first met Chief Salzman while attending the First Term Airmen Center course here. "If someone's messing up, it's our job to correct it. There's no room for beating around the bush. It has to be correct and done correctly the first time around."
Airmen in the 21st-century Air Force must be agile, involved, versatile and educated, Chief Salzman said. He further broke down agility into mental, physical and deployment aspects, with a special emphasis on physical fitness.
"You'll see folks walking around for three hours in chemical warfare gear that protects them from chemicals that'll kill them during a readiness exercise," he said. "And then the first thing they do after they get out of all that gear is light up and inhale a bunch of chemicals that'll kill them."
The audience laughed at his example, which he illustrated with the skill of a stand-up comedian, but his next words sobered the gathered men and women.
"So quit. Yeah, it's hard, but what's harder -- quitting smoking or watching someone you love die from emphysema because they smoked for 30 years?"
Airmen must also be ready to deploy -- and readiness in this arena, the chief said, cannot be overlooked.
"Do you know how many people get killed in combat whose ex-spouse gets their (Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance) money?" he asked. "Bottom line -- make sure you're taking care of your family, and make sure you're taking care of the family you're expecting to take care of." Airmen should also make sure their virtual Records of Emergency Data are up-to-date so that the Air Force can contact family members in the event of an emergency.
Versatility ties back into looking at one's day-to-day job and seeing how it can be done better, Chief Salzman said.
"I don't think we really manage our own time," he said. "What's our priority? If you're not going to your boss and asking, 'What's the most important thing I need to do to get my mission done?' you need to. You need to stop accepting everything as a priority."
Chief Salzman invited Airmen to be involved with the Academy and the community, both personally and professionally. He also asked Airmen to remain versatile -- to be Airmen first and foremost.
"One day, someone may come up to you and say, 'Your job is going away -- what would you like to do from this list?'" he said. "That makes good business sense, because why would you want to spend more money training someone and bringing them up to speed when you already have someone you can put in that job? So keep two or three paths open that you can walk down, and think about leaving your career field every once in a while for a special duty assignment."
Chief Salzman encouraged the audience to pursue higher education and noted that the Academy already leads the Air Force for the number of Community College of the Air Force degrees earned.
"Continue," he said. "Get your bachelor's done, then get your master's done. I took $32,000 out of the Air Force's pocket to get two CCAF degrees, a bachelor's degree and a master's through Air Force tuition assistance. That's insane if you're not taking advantage of that."
Airman Martinez said he appreciated Chief Salzman's enlisted call, both because of the information it provided and for the way the chief presented it.
"The great thing about Chief Salzman is that he knows how to get the audience going and keep their attention," Airman Martinez said. "His demeanor is funny, informative and very down-to-Earth."
The chief concluded his enlisted call with something he said several times throughout the discussion -- a compliment for the Air Force's enlisted corps.
"You are the most educated, most highly trained, most experienced enlisted force in the world," he said. "It is my job to take care of you. That's how I approach my job -- it's all about you."