Tag Archives: Wingman

Tribute to an American Hero: Maj. Gen. Al Flowers

By Brig. Gen. Joseph S. Ward Jr.
Commandant, Joint Forces Staff College

I often heard him refer to himself as “Airman Ordinary.” He did not feel special. He did not feel privileged. He was simply proud to serve. “Airman Ordinary” is anything but ordinary. He just completed more than 46 years of active duty service–the longest serving Airman ever, in our great Air Force history. He is a man that stands alone among Air Force giants. No one has ever served longer and perhaps no one ever will.

Maj. Gen. Flowers
Maj. Gen. Flowers

It was a rainy day in Washington DC on the morning of 16 Nov 2011. Traffic was particularly slow due to the slick road conditions and less than optimal visibility as my wife and I made our way to Bolling Air Force Base. Upon entering the Officers’ Club, one could feel the excitement. The atmosphere was alive with anticipation–this was not going to be an “ordinary” retirement ceremony.

Old friends were greeting one another. It was an Air Force family reunion of sorts. There were more “stars” in the room than one could possibly count. It was a day of historic proportions. It was a day to honor and recognize Major General Al Flowers for his extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to our Nation.

There was a special moment as we watched closely the passing of the flag–a long line of Airmen from the rank of Airman Basic all the way up to the rank of Major General. It looked like links of a chain joining all ranks in perfect unison. It represented teamwork in harmony as the flag slowly made its way forward. The last in line was General Flowers’s son, Lt. Col. Al Flowers, Jr., who ultimately rendered honors to his father. The Secretary of the Air Force resided as the officiator of the ceremony and was visibly emotional throughout holding back tears as he delivered his remarks. To be sure, Al Flowers is truly an American hero.

In the beginning

I first met General Flowers when he was a Major and I had just pinned on Captain. Our career paths continued to intertwine in the following 20 plus years, twice I had the distinct honor to have served for him at the Pentagon as my director supervisor.

So what can we learn from this remarkable Airman? What can we take from his sterling example as a servant leader to help make our Air Force even stronger?

Having spent some 13 years serving in the enlisted ranks gave General Flowers a deep and sincere appreciation for the enlisted force. He understood that they are the backbone of our armed forces. In every decision he made, he thought first and foremost on the potential impact to our enlisted corps.

Not only did he think of the enlisted in all of his decisions, he also took great care of his fellow Airmen. He lived the Air Force wingman concept.

I recall an event some 12 years ago when I needed to “pull an all-nighter” at the Pentagon. I was responsible for putting together the slide deck for a budget briefing to be given first thing the next morning and the briefing contained 30 primary slides with an additional 300 backup slides.

Leaving the 2-star’s office at around 1700 hours, then Colonel Flowers asked me if I would be able to accomplish the task prior to tomorrow’s meeting. I told the Colonel I would get it done but he needed to let me work without interruption. I had another officer to assist and we both went at the task with a sense of urgency.

Finally around 2100 hours, Colonel Flowers departed the office. It was soon midnight, and we heard someone at the door, it was Colonel Flowers still in uniform with two large bags filled with Kentucky Fried Chicken and all the “fixings.” It was the best chicken dinner I’ve ever eaten. Colonel Flowers stayed with us through the entire night…keeping the coffee pot filled and providing words of encouragement. General Flowers lived by the rule that “officers eat last.” He always took great care of others. By all measures, he was the consummate wingman. He embodies the true essence of servant leadership–it is part of his core.

In every speech I have heard him deliver, he always made it a point to give thanks. He is a man of faith–his strong belief in religion served as his foundation and his guiding light in all he did. His faith kept him on the right path as he has marched his way into the Air Force hall of fame.

He always emphasized the importance of developing and maintaining a positive mental attitude. It has often been said, “Attitudes cannot be taught but they can be caught.” General Flowers believes that a positive attitude is a force multiplier.

We don’t work in isolation; we are all part of a team. Each member of the team affects those around him and it is far better to be in the company of those whom are positive and upbeat. General Flowers always views the glass as half full.

This past year he was hampered by an ailing hip that required replacement. He will tell you that 35 years of playing basketball finally caught up with him. And for those of you who have worked in the Pentagon, you know the challenges of getting from one place to another. For those whom have not worked in the Pentagon, there are 17 miles of corridors and thousands of stairs.

General Flowers was visibly uncomfortable as he made his way back and forth to meetings throughout his busy schedule but I never once saw him have a “bad day.” He had some of the most demanding positions in the Department of Defense yet his attitude remained positive–he focused on his blessings. He loved to serve in our great Air Force and he made everyone around him feel good about the contributions they were making. He also had an unsurpassed work ethic.

Keys to Success

He has been asked repeatedly, “What is the secret to having been so successful for such a long period?” He always gave the same answer. “The secret to becoming the longest serving Airman is quite simple. The magic formula has two ingredients…begin early and stay late.” He combines country wit and humor with time-tested wisdom. He mentors many and always stresses the importance of performance as the ultimate key to success.

Entering the Air Force at age 17 and departing active duty at 63 years of age is certainly beginning early and staying late. Each and every day of active duty service, General Flowers began his day around 0400 to catch up on email and he would be at the office by 0600 to begin his duty hours. He normally departed by 1800 to encourage others to get home to their families but he continued to correspond well into the late hours. Along the way, he blazed new trails for the Financial Management career field.

He was the first Airman outside of the Special Operations community to hold the position of the Director of Resources and Planning for SOCOM. He was also the very first financial management Airman to serve as a Numbered Air Force Commander, a job he relished and was well suited for.

As the 2nd Air Force Commander, he was in charge of the thousands of newly accessed Airmen and most who were in some stage of training and education.

His office had a museum aura…filled with memorabilia from his 46 years of service. I once asked him what he valued the most. He quickly picked out two items and said anyone would be welcome to take the rest. The two items included a Technical Instructor hat encased in glass that was presented to him by the Lackland BMT community. The other item was a photo of him taking the first salute on the parade field at Lackland upon assuming command. It is a place he reveres. He will soon call San Antonio “home” as he transitions to retirement. It is the home of that sacred parade field where he began his march–it is the home to our heroes of the past and it’s the gateway for our future heroes to take the oath and begin their Air Force journey.

One of our Air Force core values is “service before self.” I cannot think of a better example to emulate. He surpassed the 40-year mark some six years ago. He could have retired at 100 percent of his basic pay in 2005. Instead, he continued on. For the past six years, he could have received more in his checkbook as a retiree than as an active duty Airman. He opted to take on incredibly demanding positions that required household moves during the past 3 holiday seasons. In total, he moved his family and household goods 28 times over the past 4 plus decades–that may be yet another record never to be matched.

He will tell you, it is not about you and me. He will tell you it is about those we have helped along the way–those we have mentored, those we have helped prepare to succeed us. He has helped bring out the very best in so many. He has encouraged countless legions of Airmen to do their best and to continue enjoying the ride.

I recall a meeting I had with him in 1999. I had just completed a tour as a squadron commander and then transitioned to the Pentagon. For me, it was like going from “hero to zero.” I struggled with my new role in sharing a cubicle with a Captain making PowerPoint slides day in and day out. My attitude was on the decline and I was tempted to take the 15-year retirement being offered at the time. Fortunately, General Flowers intervened and encouraged me to press on and finish the race. He thought I mattered…when it mattered and I am forever grateful for his mentorship and friendship.

There is an underlying theme worthy of mention in this fitting tribute to Airman Ordinary. The American dream is alive and achievable. Not all begin their respective military journeys with equal advantages. The military starting point does not discriminate–all begin the race on the same footing, all compete for promotion without prejudice. Everyone has a fair chance to climb the military pyramid of success and many start from humble beginnings. Some from having worked the tobacco fields of rural North Carolina. From harvesting tobacco for 25 cents a day to becoming a 2-star General in the world’s premiere Air and Space power–General Flowers’ story is a testament to what makes the American experience so very special. It has often rewarded so many in past and present generations who arrive early to work and leave late. Hard work and a positive attitude will continue to pay dividends to future generations.

I fear that he will solely be remembered for having been the longest serving Airman–it will be well documented in our professional military education material. But we must not focus just on his longevity record. Records are meant to be broken. Those of us that served with him must keep the spirit alive; we must continue to tell his story as he passes the torch. His simple and straight forward blue print for success is something we can all learn from: a strong work ethic coupled with an earnest desire towards self-improvement and a genuine concern for others while maintaining a positive attitude will yield great results! We must follow his lead in helping others reach their potential and thus bringing our Air Force to even greater heights of excellence. The positive difference he made in the lives of those who served with him are his legacy and his legacy will live on.

(Brig. Gen. Joseph S. Ward Jr. is the Commandant, Joint Forces Staff College,
National Defense University, Norfolk, Va.)

Command Chief Master Sergeant Forum: professionals, leaders, wingmen

By Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin
Air Force Public Affairs

Chief Master Sgt. Pat BattenbergIn attending Air Force Association’s 2011 Air & Space Conference & Technology Exposition, I had the opportunity to sit in on the Command Chief Master Sergeant Forum where the chiefs answered questions from the participants on any topic relating to the Air Force and leadership.

A number of interesting questions were brought up. What’s the biggest challenge to the enlisted force? How can supervisors best lead millennial troops? Do you have any advice for junior enlisted Airmen?

As I was listening to the responses to these questions I began to notice that from the day we receive that cherished Airman’s coin and the even greater treasure of being called an Airman each one of us has the answers.

When asked if all Airmen are professionals, all of the chiefs agreed without a doubt that we are absolutely professionals. Command Chief Master Sergeant to the Director of the Air National Guard Christopher Muncy said that with all of the training and education requirements that Airmen have to maintain we may even be more professional than our civilian counterparts. This professionalism is something that we learn in basic training and solidify throughout our career.

Another recurring theme was taking care of each other and trusting leadership. These were part of nearly every topic, and though they were usually brought up as two separate things, I believe that they go hand in hand.

Chief Master Sergeant William W. Turner, Command Chief Master Sergeant for Air Force Special Operations Command, said that one of the biggest stressors for the enlisted force is uncertainty of the future. Chief Master Sergeant John T. Salzman, Command Chief Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Academy, followed that up by saying Airmen know with certainty that they will deploy, but they don’t know what will happen to their family. The solution they offered was to trust that leadership will make the right decisions.

A piece of advice that Chief Master Sergeant Pat Battenberg, Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force District of Washington, gave to Airmen might also help leaders at all levels gain the trust that will help alleviate some stress, and it involves taking care of one another. He said to try to find a way to say yes even when it may be easier to say no.

Munsy wrapped it up nicely when he reminded us that the first thing we were ever issued in the military was a wingman.

We keep our uniforms, equipment and personal appearance in inspection order, so ask yourself, are you taking the same care with your wingmen?

Photo: Chief Master Sgt. Pat Battenberg, Air Force District of Washington command chief, answers a question from a member of the audience Sept. 19, 2011 at the Command Chief Master Sergeant Forum during the Air Force Association 2011 Air & Space Conference & Technology Exposition in National Harbor, Md. The forum was an opportunity for Airmen to have a direct line of communication with top leaders in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Melissa Goslin)

Left behind

By Senior Airman Alexandria Mosness
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A 4-year old girl with shoulder-length, light-brown hair and big brown eyes sat on the edge of the countertop with her legs dangling over the side, swinging back and forth. A strong man three times her size with hardworking hands touched her gently, and looked at her with tears streaming down his weathered face. “Mommy is not coming back. Mommy is in heaven with Grandpa,” he told her as his voice cracked. The brave little girl reached her tiny hand up to his sad face and wiped away his tears, as she said, “Don’t worry Daddy, it will be okay.”

But it was not okay; her mother, my aunt, had committed suicide only days earlier.Suicide prevention

Everyone has heard about suicide, but many people may not think it will affect them. But I guarantee if you ask around, it hits closer to home than you might think.

Yet, we still believe it won’t be someone we love. I didn’t think I would ever hear the news that my aunt Maria, who was only in her mid-30s, would take her own life.

I was a freshman in high school when I turned around at lunch one day with a smile still fresh on my face from a joke I overhead, when I saw my father’s pain-stricken face. I knew right then something was very wrong.

From then on the moments are a blur. When I look back, all I sense is a heavy dread and pain, a pain that tears deeply each time I look at my little cousin Olivia. Although Maria committed suicide about 8 years ago, it still breaks my heart to think about the life she missed out on.

She, like many people who commit suicide, dealt with depression. The one thing I wish I could have shown her was her funeral and all the people who sat in the pews crying. I wish she would have been able to see her 4-year-old daughter walk down the aisle of the big church, side-by-side with the coffin, and lay a rose on top of her mother’s lifeless body. I wish she would have felt the love of those who cared for her dearly, and those that might have been able to pull her off of that edge.

But my wishes are just that… wishes.

What I don’t want is for you to be the one wishing. Once a loved one takes his or her life, we have no control. We are the survivors, and we are the ones who must keep going.

From the time I began high school and throughout my military career, I have been inundated with computer-based training modules, classes and countless Airmen days on the topic of suicide.

But even with all of this knowledge and available resources, the Air Force battles this issue. Some might not think it can happen to them or someone they know,

So, what can we do to help those in need?

Many may think it is cliché, but I always smile at everyone. I always think especially since I am a survivor, what if that one act brings them back. Maybe it is not that simple, but kindness does go a long way.

We are always told to be good wingmen. This goes hand-in-hand with improving our resiliency. When you see your co-worker down or acting different, pull him or her aside. See what is wrong. A lot of times, all people need is someone to talk to.

If someone comes and tells you of a plan to hurt him or herself, don’t laugh it off. The person is reaching out to you. Listen and then help find the assistance he or she may need.

Social media is huge these days. We may take what our friends say online as a joke or not take them seriously, but if you start noticing a trend or something that makes you raise your eyebrows, do something about it. Heck, it might not be anything, but how would you feel if you found out later that person had harmed him or herselves? You truly can save lives.

There will always be challenges in this world, but if we all take that extra step and treat people like valued human-beings, maybe we can stop losing our Air Force family to this dreadful thing.

I know that if we had seen the warning signs, my little cousin would not be walking around on Easter grasping a picture of her mother because she missed her, but instead holding her hand and celebrating the joyous moments in life.

Photo: (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Wingman concept is working: Rebuilding lives after Souris River flood

By Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

WingmenIn a DODLive Bloggers Roundtable July 15, 2011, Lt. Col. Jon Dawson, Inspector General at Minot Air Force Base (AFB), ND gave a first-hand account of returning to his home after a destructive flood, named the worst in Minot history. More importantly, he talked about how wingmanship prevailed in a time when devastation could overwhelm a community.

The husband and father of two teenaged sons has a house, which was built in 1895, on the Souris River. Until now, it had never flooded. This summer, despite sandbagging efforts, water rose to three or four feet, just above the windows of the main floor, completely filling the basement. A 15-foot bird house was covered to the 13-foot mark in water from a river that usually dries up to not much more than six inches in summer months.

After working during the day, Dawson went home to clean. The main floor had been gutted down to the studs, and water was still being pumped out of the basement. His belongings were scattered between the second floor of his house, a neighbor’s garage, the base house garage and a few personal items that he and his family have with them. Temporary living arrangements will be available to the Dawson family until mid-August at which point he will be looking for a place to live.

Dawson was not the only one. He admits that he got hit worse than some, but points out that he still fared better than others. In Minot and the surrounding areas there are 11,000 people, of which 1,200 are Airmen, displaced due to the rising waters.

“I didn’t do it for me. I did it for the 10,000 other people out there,” said Dawson about his participation in an interview that would provide an understanding of what flood victims are experiencing.

Throughout all of this, Minot AFB has operated normally. It takes resiliency and Airmen helping Airmen to make that happen in times like this.

“The wingman system is working,” said Dawson. The wing commander released 300 Airmen for volunteer alternate duty location. These Airmen have helped fill sandbags, and will continue to help with clean-up efforts around the city. In addition to that, many more Airmen volunteered their free time.

Some folks have offered their homes to displaced people which has reduced the burden on the shelters. Also, there is a system on base to match displaced Airmen with a family that is able to share or donate items or services.

Chapel services throughout the Air Force are collecting money for Airmen affected by the flood, so be sure to get in touch with your chaplain if you are interested in helping out or make a donation to Operation Warmheart by sending a check made payable to “Operation Warmheart” and place the words “flood relief” in the memo line and mail to the following address:

Minot Airman and Family Readiness Center
22 Peacekeeper Place
Minot, N.D. 58705

Photo: (Top) U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Devin Vitt (left) and Capt. Bryant Harrison, 23rd Bomb Squadron radar navigator and pilot respectively, help sandbag the home of Lt. Col. John Dawson, 5th Bomb Wing Inspector General, in Burlington, N.D., June 23, 2011. The Airmen are assigned to Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The Souris River, which begins in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, is expected to inundate thousands of homes and businesses. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sharida Jackson)
(Bottom) Water engulfs a neighborhood in Minot, N.D., June 23, 2011. As many as 10,000 residents, about one-fourth of the city’s population, have evacuated as the fast-rising Souris River inundates thousands of homes and businesses. The deluge from the Souris River is expected to exceed that of the city’s historical 1969 flood, making this the region’s worst flooding in four decades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sharida Jackson)