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Leadership...not just from the top

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Leadership is an often talked about subject. Corporations pay large sums of money for those they perceive have it. A cottage industry of selling leadership textbooks and giving self improvement seminars is thriving. 

Fortunately, we don't have to spend a lot of money on a manual, travel to a distant lecture or attend a corporate board room meeting. Leadership is all around us. It is an asset our services seem to foster through trust, commitment and a sense of purpose. Air Force students of leadership only need a desire to observe their work environment. Our tuition is free. Leadership begins almost from day one in our military. 

Solely concentrating on the number of stripes, bars or stars will severely limit the lessons learned. Watching our very junior Airmen is often just as important and allows for more opportunities. As a matter of necessity, our DoD culture breeds leadership at a young age. 

Our recent operational readiness inspection experience is no exception. The following are just a few examples of leadership I witnessed. The first security forces patrol to respond to a simulated civil disturbance was an airman 1st class; each of the flight line entry control points were aptly operated by airmen 1st class; entry control for the command post was run by airmen 1st class; senior airmen were fire team leaders forming the bulk of our base's defense quick reaction force. 

Each rose to the challenge without fanfare. Few even thought of dodging their responsibilities. No one griped they had not been, nor had their team, been trained enough, been given too few resources, been worked too long, etc... Each conducted their own assessment, immediately addressed their perceived weaknesses and prepared to perform. 

The SF airman 1st class during the simulated riot gave a safe route of travel and a situation report to the arriving on-scene commander and riot squad, ensuring a timely and well orchestrated deployment. She responded alone and held down the fort until reinforcements could arrive. 

Airmen 1st class trained and led three or four augmentees through the north enclave barrier plan controlling traffic and conducting random searches of vehicles to protect our flight line and $4 billion plus of war-fighting material. Airmen with little prior experience controlled the orderly movement of hundreds of cars and thousands of people. The airman 1st class team lead had to train his crew of augmentees how to check IDs, establish an overwatch and work a crew rotation with other members who they had never met before. 

Airmen 1st class were command post entry controllers directing our most senior staff through an orderly relocation to the alternate control center, guaranteeing our senior leaders arrived safe and in a timely manner to continue to fight for regional stability.
Senior airmen taught newly formed augmentees fire teams on individual and team movements. They dominated the area around critical nodes to prevent their disablement, again with teams members they had never met before. 

These were a few examples of security forces Airmen in action, but for our wing to work, senior airmen crew chiefs prepared the planes for battle, loaded the munitions, crafted the intelligence briefs, maintained separation in the pattern, protected the network from attack and numerous other critical events. Similar Airmen have or will be kicking down doors of insurgents, transporting war material throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, training Iraqi police and soldiers and destroying weapons caches which perpetuate random acts of violence. 

Leadership is around us and has been born from necessity. Our ORI was just one minor example of the Airmen we are producing and the leaders we are forming. Just put this paper down, get out of the office and observe if you truly want to learn. Leadership is all around us.