Taking care of Airmen while maintaining constant readiness -- thoughts from the new AFDW Commander

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Brus Vidal

“My job, as the commander, is to work for the Airmen of the Headquarters, Air Force District of Washington, and the Airmen within AFDW writ large,” said the new Air Force District of Washington Commander, Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson, while sharing his initial thoughts about the command, its mission and, most importantly, its people.

During the discussion, Jacobson illustrated the image of a triangle and compared it to an organization. Many people view an Air Force organization as a triangle with the leadership point at the top, while most of the Airmen reside at its base. 

“I like to flip that triangle inverted and recognize that ultimately, day-in and day-out, it’s the Airmen performing the AFDW mission whom I am here to support.  It’s not about the commander, it’s about the commander supporting the Airmen at both the Headquarters staff and across the command, globally.”

Jacobson said this perspective was honed by many leadership lessons during his career, which includes four years as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy in Colo. Springs, Colo.

“I think it starts with how I was raised; it’s really trying to do the right thing, the right way, the first time,” he said.  “If you strive to achieve this approach to life as well as with leadership you will find that you make good decisions.”

“In this particular position (as commander of AFDW) as with most command positions, you’re not accomplishing the work, you’re providing guidance and direction.”

He said he believes that is what Airmen need from their leaders – good judgment, guidance and clear direction. 

“I think if you take that approach, it allows you to make sound decisions on their behalf so that they’re in a position to effectively execute their job,” Jacobson said.  “America’s sons and daughters volunteer to serve in this Air Force and they have an expectation of what their leadership and commanders should do. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to find ways to make them successful.”

Beyond supporting Airmen with strong leadership and putting them in a position to succeed, Jacobson said the command and its people need to be good stewards of Air Force resources. 

“It’s incumbent on us to use the resources the American taxpayer gives us as effectively as possible and to prioritize and achieve the most important aspects of our mission first,” he said.

And that mission is both unique and varied.

“Ours’ is a diverse mission set. We support the National Capital Region in a variety of ways either from a contingency response standpoint, from a ‘face of the Air Force’ ceremonial standpoint, or from providing a variety of different types of support to Airmen within the NCR and beyond. Having the opportunity to command this team is something I take humbly and seriously,” Jacobson said. He then alluded to the unique challenges that AFDW faces.  “There is a sense of the weight of responsibility that’s placed upon us; we are in one of the most visible venues in the world. 

Everybody watches what happens within the National Capital Region.”

But it is a challenge he embraces:  “To support the Airmen who are on that stage on a daily basis while trying to ensure they have the right guidance and resources to do their mission well so that it reflects well on our United States Air Force, and it meets the expectations of our senior leaders both within the U.S. Air Force and within the United States Government is an interesting, and challenging task that I look forward to.”

Jacobson said he has also reflected on the contingency response aspect of AFDW’s mission, noting the inherent responsibility to support the civil authorities if called upon.

“We have a responsibility in this command to always be ready. It’s incumbent upon us to evaluate what could happen, and ensure that we’ve reviewed how to best position the command, so we are ready for the unknown,” he said.

Jacobson remarked on the need to train for and execute some of the tasks AFDW Airmen could be called upon to perform, so that the first time they face a challenge, or situation, is not when it happens for real. 

“To me, if the scenarios that you practice are more difficult than the scenarios you encounter, your Airmen are actually much better positioned to succeed,” he said.  “That’s been my approach regardless of the level of command I’ve been in -- I’ve always exercised to try to give our Airmen an opportunity to practice a harder scenario, so if a real-world event occurs it’s not as daunting as it may have been without any practice.”

“That’s what we do for a living.”

What AFDW also does for a living is support more than 32,000 Airmen and their families globally.  Jacobson said his charge to the headquarters staff, with its large customer base, is to appreciate as best as possible the circumstances within which those Airmen are operating. 

“We need to be flexible enough as a Headquarters Staff to manage how we provide guidance, resources, and support to a diverse set of organizations; it’s coming to work every day recognizing you work for them and trying to find a way to get to ‘yes’ to make them successful across the globe,” he said.  “That’s not an easy task, but one we look forward to – working hard.”

Jacobson said his initial view is that the AFDW Airmen were accomplishing their mission before he arrived, and he is asking them to keep moving out.

He concluded his thoughts with, “As I have the opportunity to learn and appreciate the issues that challenge the command, then I can provide a better vector of where we need to go to improve the support, to improve the readiness, to improve the ceremonial aspects of the command as we represent the Air Force as a whole. If I had any vision for AFDW moving forward it’s: sustain the excellence that the command has carried before I arrived, and ensure that we continue to represent the Air Force well.”