Immersive AFDW Squadron Commanders Course wraps

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Air Force District of Washington Command Information
As part of service-wide efforts to revitalize squadrons and help emerging leaders prime their Airmen for success in rapidly changing warfighter environments, the Air Force District of Washington hosted the 2018 Squadron Commanders Course at the Gen. Jacob E. Smart Conference Center here May 14-18.

The immersive, hands-on course presented to 16 field grade officers and several of their spouses command and leadership principles through guest speakers, site visits, media training workshops, and mentor guidance.

“Command is as cool as it gets,” AFDW Commander Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson said to the officers, who will soon take the reins at squadrons here, throughout the National Capital Region, and at Air Force bases and elements around the globe. “You’re at that tactical level of leadership where you will literally be able to know every Airman that you’re responsible for … and every Airman has a story.”

Jacobson asserted that he and current Air Force senior leaders grew up in a different era, and suggested technology, increased operation tempos, and a smaller force have increased the complexity of challenges facing newer commanders, calling for adaptive and innovative leadership styles.

“You will lead in an Air Force environment that forces you to command differently,” Jacobson said. “You have to create a culture that allows Airmen to take charge and move out, and you’re training them to make decisions based on your leadership style and intent.”

As such, Jacobson and AFDW Vice Commander Col. Kevin Eastland, the course’s dedicated mentor, tapped into non-military perspectives and leveraged the command’s relationships with sports organizations to illustrate leadership and management best practices for the officers.

Appearing at the Smart Conference Center here May 15, National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith described the importance of setting clear, measurable goals, whether in sports or a military organization.

“It is important to define what our wins are going to be,” Smith said. “We need to assess what have we done and what are we going to do to measure success.”

Next, the officers and their spouses traveled to Nationals Park baseball stadium, where they gained additional insight and leadership parallels from Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez and his staff.

Eastland said the course’s shift from conventional PowerPoint slides and theoretical coaching to scenario-based, experiential techniques was by design and helped the commanders better understand the complexities of developing a team from disparate viewpoints and desires.

“We want to move toward a thinking organization, and we need these commanders as leaders to be thinkers, so we put them in scenarios where they actually had to analyze a situation and figure out how they’d handle it,” Eastland said. “I believe that’s ultimately the best way to learn.”

Throughout the week, Jacobson and Eastland also emphasized the significance of the spouse network, especially as it relates to squadron culture, which they said is a critical conduit to readiness and open communication of Airmen and families’ needs.

“Readiness in Airmen is not just about putting on a chemical mask and seeing if they can function; it’s also about keeping the home front set so they can focus on the mission,” Jacobson said. “As commanders, you need to ensure the family is ready for their Airmen to deploy at a moment’s notice and that our families bind together and help each other.”

Chief Master Sgt. Melanie K. Noel, AFDW command chief, offered the enlisted perspective and encouraged the commanders to foster a culture of trust and empowerment among Airmen in their respective squadrons.

“We recruit Airmen, we retain families,” Noel said. “And the courageous leadership demonstrated by you is a model for your Airmen to emulate so I recommend that you continue to push that empowerment down to the lowest level.”

Assonta Wagner, spouse to Lt. Col. Andrew Wagner, 11th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron commander, said she will leave the course with a better understanding of the peer-to-peer and community support she can give and receive within a key spouse network.

“This course showed me ways to make the right tools and resources more accessible to Airmen and their families,” Mrs. Wagner said. “We’re all in this together and we all want the same thing – for our Airmen to be happy and successful in life and feel that sense of family in the Air Force.”

Lt. Col. Jennifer Whetstone, 1st Helicopter Squadron commander, reflected in particular on the group’s field trip to Gettysburg, Pa., historic site of the Civil War’s turning point where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his seminal address of the same name. The visit helped emphasize the importance and effectiveness of trust and communication among her command.

“The nation was torn asunder and above the noise and the fog of war, Lincoln stood tall and reminded people that this is who we are, we are a nation forged in liberty, and his words are still memorialized today,” Whetstone said. “It made me realize that there will be challenges during squadron command, but it’s just so important to stay the course and communicate your vision to those in your charge so you can keep moving toward the goal.”