The value of a good NCO: Priceless

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Justin Hickman
  • 606th Air Control Squadron commander
This is my second time being assigned to the 606th Air Control Squadron. As I considered the direction I wanted to take in my career, I knew I wanted to come back to an air control squadron. When friends and colleagues asked me why, the answer was easy - because of the NCOs.

Experience has led me to believe the world's finest Airmen are led by U.S. Air Force NCOs.

I have gained valuable advice from NCOs over the years, which has helped shape me into the officer I am today. The 606th ACS has 18 different air force specialty codes and 20 different work-centers that form one cohesive unit working toward one goal - accomplishing the mission.

The 606th ACS accomplishes that kind of synergy through their NCOs.

To truly appreciate the value of an NCO, I start by reminding myself the only difference between me and an NCO is that I am commissioned.

We share "officership" and by that, I mean we lead Airmen. Because I see NCOs and commissioned officers as partners leading Airmen toward mission accomplishment, I also believe there is no limit to a mission's success. Regardless of the challenges put in front of an organization, the sage wisdom of the NCO coupled with the perspective of a commissioned officer will bring mission success.

Many have heard the saying, "Just as iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen the other." The mutual respect and military professionalism of the commissioned and noncommissioned officers are the forces that overcome any obstacle that might get in the way of mission success.

Leadership is as much about sharing vision and expectations with your people as it is about understanding theirs as well. The 606th ACS encourages open communication in order to adapt to changing mission priorities. Officers and NCOs share the responsibility of leading our Airmen - a responsibility no one takes lightly. While commissioned officers may have a goal for Airmen to reach, the NCOs make sure the Airmen are empowered to meet expectations.

NCOs ensure our Airmen meet the 606th's vision of "Combat Mission Ready, 24/7/365 in mind, body, and soul." They ensure our Airmen are prepared through training. They oversee career development course completion, upgrade training and a multitude of other AFSC-specific requirements that have to be met in order to have 282 Airmen ready to deploy with $170 million of equipment anywhere at any time.

NCOs are the leaders officers trust because we cannot be everywhere at all times. During our last deployment the squadron had six geographically separated sites supporting Operation New Dawn's egress of 39,000 service members. My officers and I were not worried about how we would care for 183 deployed Airmen; we knew we had empowered our NCOs to do that and they made us proud by allowing our Airmen to succeed.

Our squadron succeeds because of communicated expectations, an empowered environment and mutual respect. The NCOs are able to respectfully disagree with leadership in private and offer a solution to achieve the common goal of mission success. There is no pride in ownership.

The best ideas are used whether they come from an NCO or a commissioned officer. More than once in my career, I've had an NCO tell me, "Sir, that's my job; leave it to me" or "Sir, you take care of 'X, Y and Z' and I will have the Airmen ready to go."

I appreciate the hard work and dedication of our NCOs in leading Airmen. I am humbled and motivated each day by the lengths to which they will go to ensure our mission's success and towards the care of our squadron's number one asset: our Airmen.