Molding the clay

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Scott Shuttleworth
  • 17th Mission Support Group Deputy Commander
Over a career, each one of us has had people that have touched us both in positive and negative ways and molded and made us the NCO's and Officers we are when we get to this point in our lives.

We've all studied Doolittle, Levitow, Day, Thorsness, Nicholas, Nimitz, Marshall. These are all names you know. Here a few that you probably don't know who had just as much of a profound effect on my career as anyone could have.

Names like Chief Master Sgt. Jim Bishop, Master Sgt. Larry "Wormy" Herrington, Col. Jerry Padget and Col. Billy Boyd, Col. Robert Elder (now Ret Lt Gen Elder), Mr. Robert Frye, Col. Steven Jones, Lt. Col Justo "El Heffe" Herrera, Col. Stan Chase, Col. Tony Henderson and Col. Col.Jay Fitzgerald are just a few that brought me to where I am now at Goodfellow. Some molded clay...but there are a few other leaders not mentioned who broke it along the way.

Chief Bishop and Sergeant Wormy Herrington were my first supervisors in the Air National Guard. As a young Airman, they taught me that you can still have a good time and be professional with the job. They taught me to not take life to seriously and when coming to work isn't fun anymore, it's time to start looking for another line of work. Life is too short to do things you don't want to do. They taught me how to be a model NCO; how to handle haircuts and uniforms, and that being on time means being early. Most of all, they taught me how to truly take care of Airmen, with a passion.

They believed in me and pushed me to be my best. I wanted to stay in the National Guard and remain stagnant doing my thing and Chief Bishop pretty much showed me to the door telling me that I wasn't welcome there anymore, that I was going to school and that basically my only option was the Reserve Officer Training Corps because he didn't want to see me back. He highly encouraged education and progression. Because of him and with his help, I enrolled in ROTC at Mississippi State University. I believe my last MRI a showed a piece of Chief's embedded boot leather somewhere in me that never got surgically removed. Lesson: Always do what's right and what's best by your Airmen and the mission will not fail!

Col. Padgett and Col. Boyd from ROTC at MSU, were two very different men that set the standard for excellence through their cadets and accepted nothing short of that. They told us the career, they never used the word job, we were embarking on is a marathon, not a sprint. Col. Padgett taught me that most things are not gray, they are black and white and if you truly believe in something, you should stand up for it if that means trouble.

Col. Boyd taught me to enjoy the ride. He said one day it would all end and we would all be up there where he was and that it would move fast and be here before we knew it. Wow, was he right.

Col. Elder, now Retired Gen. Elder, taught me organization and patience. This man has a steel trap for a mind. However, when a crisis came up, he wasn't looking to be an executioner, he was looking for a solution and a way ahead. If an execution was needed then he would deal with that later after all the facts had been gathered. He taught me how to be level headed in a crisis and solve the problem at hand. He taught me that if you are always a hammer, you will always be looking for nails to pound. Every situation is different and needs to be reviewed that way.

Mr. Bob Frye and Col. Jones were two great men from an assignment that could have been fatal for a senior Captain cross flow acquisition officer. They went the extra mile to ensure their officers, NCO's, and civilians were taken care of. I learned that it really is about relationships and if you don't take care of your people, the mission can suffer greatly. I learned to be fair and equitable across the board when dealing with people and that no matter what, no two situations are the same.

I also learned from Col. Jones that it is vitally important to take time with your family. He pushed us hard in the job but ensured we left the office at an appropriate time to be with our families. He frequently asked about folks taking quality time with the families' not just quantity, and he enforced it.

I met Lt. Col. Herrera at Squadron Officer School. The colonel taught me that discipline is for the good of the unit and the Air Force and that holding people accountable is always the right thing to do, up and down the chain-of-command.

I also learned how to put on the Academy award winning face when things go South. You see, you can do all the right things, fill in all the right squares, and have an outstanding record, but sometimes things don't go your way. However, you have to keep a lot of that to yourself and still smile and get the job done because the folks that work under your supervision take on the attitude you take on

Chief Gasparetto and Chief Haskins were also two very different people who had a profound effect on my career. They were my superintendents in my first and only command, and were great mentors for me on humility. They shielded and protected their NCO's like momma bears but disciplined just as much when necessary. They showed me that it is our job to make those above us look good and in turn the Air Force looks good in the eyes of the nation. They taught me to be humble in successes and in defeats.

Col. Tony Henderson taught me that you don't have to meet someone to believe in them because an officer's word is still truly their bond. He hired me as a squadron commander based on a brief phone conversation we had. He asked me a couple of questions and he made his decision. He didn't know me but he put his faith in my abilities as a leader on the front lines of Air Force recruiting. You see if we didn't get it right there, the defense of the nation fails. He had faith in me. He taught me that an Airman's word is truly their bond...unless proven otherwise.

Col. Jay Fitzgerald showed me that you have to hold the line on certain situations and that no two are alike. He showed me how to actively listen to a team and even if I don't agree with all of what they are presenting, you have to at least them out.

Commanders aren't always in the superhero seat. Sometimes, they are in the villain seat. But as long as you are fair and equitable across the board, people will respect you and your leadership.

Col. Stan Chase one taught me loyalty to oneself and to the Air Force. He lived the service before self core value. We had several bad incidents in our squadron and he personally called to check on me. He knew we were taking care of the Airmen but in that world the squadron commander has no one else to lean on and he was genuinely concerned. If something happened to one of our Airmen, it broke his heart. There were several late nights in the office after incidents in the squadron had just drained the life out of me and I would get the phone call. He just wanted to check up on me. He knew the other stuff would sort itself out but he was concerned about one of his Airmen. To me, that is leadership. Furthermore, he wanted to retire twice but the Air Force needed him and asked, not demanded that he stay. He gave up a new house and another two years of his life to the Air Force because that is where he was needed.

He also taught me to be yourself. Don't make excuses; just be yourself day in and day out. If folks don't like and respect you for that, then that is too bad. Service before self is not about the big things. It's about the little things, about being part of something bigger than yourself.

All of these servicemembers were clay molders. They took me from the very beginning and throughout my career molded me into the officer I am today.

There were also folks over the years that impacted me the other way-they were clay breakers, always looking for a way to degrade or humiliate, and it was always about them. They were only concerned with promotions, certain jobs, rank or being seen. However, I learned just about as much from them on how not to lead as I did from the good ones.

Imagine an Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard with all clay molders training and mentoring our future leaders to take our place...what an unbelievable place that would be!

At Goodfellow, we have the opportunity to mold from the very beginning, setting the stage for a successful career in the service of our nation, which by the way is only going to get tougher.

The people and families of America have entrusted their best "clay" for you to mold. My question to you leaders is: are you molding the clay for positive or are you breaking the clay while you lead the next generation of warriors?