Lorenz on Leadership – It’s all about service

General Stephen R. Lorenz is the Air Education and Training Command commander.

General Stephen R. Lorenz is the Air Education and Training Command commander.

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- A few weeks ago, Staff Sgt. Sarah Price worked diligently as a radar approach control (RAPCON) controller within the 71st Operations Group at Vance Air Force Base, Okla. If anyone had asked her what she did, her response would have been simple and quick, "I control aircraft."

No one would argue the importance of her job, especially since it directly enables the student flying training that Vance conducts on a daily basis. Had you asked, Sergeant Price would have told you that her ability to make a difference in our Air Force was directly related to her ability to expertly control Vance's aircraft. Her perspective, however, was about to change.

On June 8, at one minute after midnight, the collective bargaining agreement between an Air Force contractor and its labor force at Vance expired and student flying training stopped. Nearly 800 people went on strike - that's over 40 percent of the base's labor force! These were all key and essential people who not only ran aircraft maintenance operations, but also enabled most base support operations. Suddenly, Vance was without people to run the child development center, base supply system, environmental management programs, transportation, mail delivery, communication systems, civil engineering operations and many other services that the base's population depends on each and every day.

The leadership at Vance had to make some immediate changes, to reallocate limited resources based on new priorities and new realities. Services that had long been taken for granted were now in jeopardy. Student flying training was no longer the most important operation on Vance. One minute after midnight on June 8, Sergeant Price ceased working as a RAPCON controller and became Vance's lodging detail noncommissioned officer-in-charge. When she returned to work, Sergeant Price began training in a brand new capacity, learning the intricacies of military lodging operations and even how to handle hazardous waste! She and her team worked every day of the strike, including weekends. Lodging, a base service function with 100 percent occupancy at the outset of the strike, could not fail.

Being an Airman in the United States Air Force is all about service. For many, when we start serving in the Air Force, this is simply something we do. As time passes, military service becomes central to who and what we are. This transition happens at different times for all of us -- and the sooner the better. When the Air Force is who you are, then you have internalized our Core Values. You'll spend the extra time to finish the job right. You'll stop and pick up the lone piece of trash along the road while jogging. You'll put the needs of others ahead of your own.

Is Sergeant Price's story unique? It certainly isn't in the 71st Flying Training Wing. The entire base population shifted responsibilities to keep the wing running. When the strike eventually ended more than two weeks later, the base was ready to return to its traditional allocation of responsibilities. Sergeant Price, her lodging detail teammates and the rest of the wing returned to their normal duties.

Student flying training is once again a top priority for Vance. Tranquility is defined by the sound of aircraft engines above. Vance's reallocation of responsibilities during the strike helped the base gain an important lesson in priorities. Base support services provide the foundation for Vance to conduct their 'primary' mission: student flight training. This is just as applicable at every installation across the entire Air Force and not just at Vance. Our daily base support activities can never be taken for granted. From Sergeant Price's perspective, "even the smallest jobs play their part in sustaining the mission."

Stories like Sergeant Price's happen every day across the Air Force -- service-focused Airmen helping Airmen to accomplish the mission, even if it means moving away from their comfort zone. Sergeant Price never expected in her wildest imagination she would have the opportunity to make such a positive difference in people's lives and in her organization while working for base lodging -- and not as a RAPCON controller. As Airmen, we are all united by our commitment to Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. Through our Core Values, Sergeant Price made a difference for Vance.

If you ask Sergeant Price today what she does, her response, while still simple and quick, sounds a little different, "I am an Airman." You see, serving in the Air Force is who she is. The sooner all of us follow her lead, embracing service and the other Core Values, the better our force will be.