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It's about our Airmen

Lt. Col. John F. Ukleya

Lt. Col. John F. Ukleya

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE -- Over 21 years ago, I graduated basic training as an Airman First Class and was lucky enough to get a direct duty assignment back to Lackland Air Force Base. 
   The one factor that had the biggest impression on me was my master sergeant non-commissioned officer in charge, who was my boss, mentor, and hero because of the way he went about his daily business. He knew everyone in our office, all six of us inside and out. He knew who could play softball, and who needed to sit in the stands. He knew wives, girlfriends, children, likes and dislikes, and what made us tick. 
   The amazing part was he did it without a computer, internet, cell phone, MySpace, text messaging, instant messaging, or faxes.
   As I fast forward to today, I am fortunate to lead a group of our rising Airmen. These young warriors are the smartest and most dedicated crop of young Airmen I have ever seen.
   Our enlisted teammates under the age of 26 make up 39 percent of our Air Force. The last time I was on the flightline, it was an Airman I saw turning a wrench. At the Optometry Clinic, it was an Airman at the desk; base flight records, another Airman; guarding our aircraft, yet another Airman. But when I compare my Airman experience of 1986 to today, I can tell you that we as supervisors, from NCOIC's to chiefs, and flight leadership to commanders, have a different relationship with our Airmen than twenty years ago.
   The items that I mentioned my former supervisor did without (internet, cell phones, etc.) have taken us out of personal daily contact with our folks, and put us into more of a virtual relationship.
   It is hard to look at a screen, e-mail, or text and see body language, a smile, or someone who needs the support of their supervisor or commander. Our young Airmen know us, and it's our duty to know our Airmen.
   There is no denying that we are all busy day in and day out, but we need to push ourselves away from our 21st Century crutches and get back to knowing our Airmen.
   We all may think we know our Airmen, but do we really? Take time to plan a get together, whether it is a barbecue, soccer game, or just an offsite gathering and you'll see a side of your team that you might never have seen before. You may also learn something that will enable you to help others in the future.
   I can promise you by doing this, you are going to see a great bunch of young warriors who are the backbone of the Air Force's success and truly are our nation's sword and shield.