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Motivating the Motivators

(Courtesy graphic)

(Courtesy graphic)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

As the commander of the 315th Training Squadron, I am honored to serve with world class instructors, military training leaders and support staff as they train, develop, and inspire the future leaders of our Air Force. Instructors and MTLs, like all supervisors in the Air Force, have the incredibly important task of motivating their subordinates and inspiring them to achieve beyond what they think they are capable of achieving. Many Airmen are naturally motivated and driven, but all of us require at least some form of external motivation. Even the most engaged Airman needs a role model to keep them focused on meeting mission requirements and to help them strive for excellence.

Every day at Goodfellow, there are thousands of Airmen being inspired and motivated inside classrooms, outside the dormitories, out on the troop walk, in offices and hangars all across this fine base. But what motivates the motivators? How do our instructors stay motivated to spend long hours with students every day, and then even more hours, taking care of the mission outside the classrooms?  How do our MTLs stay motivated to consistently set the example for our nation’s newest Airmen as they mold them into leaders, especially when they are greatly outnumbered and often spread thin? How do our services and medical personnel stay motivated? How do they find the patience required to take care of a never ending population of young Airmen, brand new to our service, and in need of coaching and mentoring, as they figure out how to navigate the Air Force life?

While I do not claim to have the secret formula for motivation, I argue most people find no small measure of motivation in being relevant and making a difference. As members of the United States Air Force, most of us realize what we do matters. We see tangible results when the mission succeeds, which it typically does, and that helps to keep us going. Beyond being motivated merely by mission success, however, I also believe most supervisors are motivated by the very people they are charged with leading. Ask a group of Air Force “lifers” what kept them in the service, and the majority will simply say “the people.” As an Air Force “lifer” myself, I continue to serve because of the people I am privileged to serve alongside.

The longer I serve, the more I rely on the stories of the Airmen I serve with to motivate me. So in an attempt to inspire you, I want to share a few quotes from our service’s youngest Airmen, our future.  Each week, I meet with Airmen who just graduated Basic Military Training, and I ask them why they joined. Many of the responses you would expect: patriotism, education, travel and excitement. Here are a few non-standard responses that I read over when I need some extra motivation:

  • “I was tired of other people having to stick up for me, so I decided to learn to stand up for myself and protect people who can’t protect themselves.”

  • “I joined so I could learn to be a man.”

  • “I saw the work the Air National Guard did to rebuild my town after a natural disaster completely destroyed it, and I wanted to be a part of something like that.”

  • “I recognized the destructive path I was heading down and watched my family go down; I joined to survive.”

  • “I need to be a role model for my siblings and put my family on a new trajectory.”

  • “A tradition of honor and a legacy of valor, my grandfather made a one-way trip to Bastogne in World War II, my father flew in Vietnam, and now it’s my turn.”

  • “My father served and recently passed away; this is my way of honoring him.”

  • “I fought through many personal battles and I am now proud to be called Airman.”

  • “I did not have a good family, but now I do.”

Like all of you, the Airmen I quoted raised their hand in a time of war to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Take a minute and think about your own story, why you joined, and why you continue to serve. Then talk to the Airmen around you and learn their story. Draw some of your motivation from those you are charged with motivating.