U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Colonel Shawn Campbell’s tenure as commander of the 10th Air Base Wing is almost up, but you wouldn’t know it unless you took a look at the bare walls in his office, a tell-tale sign he’s moving out.
He’s still deeply involved in leading the wing and working to provide what he calls a “smooth transition” for his replacement, Col. Brian Hartless, who takes command of the wing June 17.
Campbell is known for his appreciation of literature, military history and the advances of former wing commanders, but prefers to dwell on the present. He doesn’t bother with thoughts of legacy.
“I don’t care,” he said. “Leadership is not about shoring-up your legacy, and it’s not about me as an individual,” he said.
What leadership is about, Campbell said, is people.
When it comes to “his people” -- “Team Ten” -- the colonel said he’s proud to have been a team member and leader in a group of more than 3,000 Airmen and civilian employees. Their efforts, he said, often fly under the radar compared to the Academy’s better-known academic endeavors.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny Campbell’s team does a lot, and the colonel said the wing is poised to make more advances under Hartless’ leadership.
“I often say the commander of the 10th ABW is like the ‘mayor’ of the Academy, and in this case, Colonel Campbell has been a fantastic mayor,” said Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Academy’s superintendent. “He’s accomplished many amazing things in advancing the services and platforms we need to educate, train and care for our cadets, and serve our families stationed here, not to mention the thousands of customers who come to the Academy on a daily basis for medical services. The bottom line is that without the 10th Air Base Wing, we wouldn’t have our Academy. I wish Colonel Campbell and his family the best.”
What’s in a name?
Before arriving at the Academy in June 2017, Campbell constructed a motto and slogan to unite and identify the wing. After much thought, he settled on “Team Ten” as a motto, and “Forging the Future,” as the slogan.
“We know our slogan and motto helped the wing see itself in a different light when the Academy’s other mission elements started using it,” he said. “It gave us an identity. It added to the character of the Academy as a public institution and an active duty military base, he said.
“How do you balance between those two spheres of being an academic institution and a fully-functioning military base?” Campbell said. “It absolutely helps to let people know that there’s a wing here that runs a ‘city.’ We’re still a military installation -- we’re just a bit more accommodating than a typical Air Force base when it comes to supporting the hundreds of thousands of guests we welcome into our yard each year.”
Outside of the Academy’s academic commitment, Campbell is excited to know the general public is learning more and more about the wing’s purpose and services.
“We share many commonalities and concerns with most any other Air Force air base wing,” he said. “We deploy Airman and we provide base defense and readiness -- all concerns of every wing commander across the Air Force. We’re fulfilling the chief of staff’s (Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein) intent just like any other wing. We’re very proud of that.”
Campbell is by nature an optimist, but freely admits there were a few big challenges during his stint as commander, including the wing’s failure on a 2018 unit compliance inspection.
“The low point was failing, but the high point was how people responded to it,” he said. “What I said to my team, what I asked them to do, was ‘carry me.’ I said ‘you can go a lot farther than you think.’ I said, ‘I own this. It’s not on you.’”
Campbell will leave the wing to Hartless “in full compliance.” Since that failure, the colonel said the wing has found many ways to improve its processes and services above and beyond the Air Force standard. He said he’s leaving the Academy confident that the wing truly is the “fuselage for the Academy’s airplane.”
“I’m leaving knowing my team did the best they could,” he said. “I’m leaving knowing I did the best I could. I poured myself into this. You have to, to be successful.”
Campbell’s leadership style is philosophically geared toward building the “right team” and giving them the intent and the authority to use their expertise to get the job done.
“It’s about establishing relationships,” he said. “Once you have that, there is no problem you can’t solve. When I first got here, General Silveria said ‘I need you to be involved in our community. I need you to be making those connections.’ He meant our Academy, our community here -- not just our civic community outside our fence line.”
Campbell said the advice he’d give Hartless about leading the wing is the same advice he’d give to any Total Force Airman preparing for any assignment.
“Learn everything you can about the installation and you’ll be better,” he said.
One way to improve the odds for excellence, Campbell said, is to be present.
“If you’re stationed here, you can’t help but see how we help shape cadets and it takes excellence to do that,” he said. “If we’re only going to be average, we’re missing the point. How do you ensure you’re extracting excellence from your people? Be consistent, committed and connected.”
Life will be a bit different when Campbell arrives at the Pentagon later this month. He goes from leading 3,000 Airmen and civilians to supervising a crew of six as the Air Force’s talent management director.
“That’s what happens when you get a staff position,” he said.
Campbell has already spent a fair amount of time in Air Force positions at the Defense Department’s epicenter. He’s been an intern, the assistant executive officer for the deputy chief of staff for installations and logistics, the assistant deputy of Support Services, and the chief of the director’s action group for an assistant secretary of the Air Force.
He’s optimistic about his new assignment and the adventures it will offer his family, but said it might be a bit of a challenge to swap the Academy’s bucolic surroundings for the cement and marble hallways of the Pentagon.
“The view will certainly be different,” he said.