Deployments: Unrivaled leadership opportunities

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jason M. Mitchell
  • 52nd Component Maintenance Squadron commander
It was May 2008, and with an Air Force-wide wing re-organization pending, I was instructed to make a permanent change of assignment to an aircraft maintenance unit. In only three weeks, I was to lead them on an Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment. I had previously deployed, but the task of entering a unit and leading them on a deployment in a few short weeks was intimidating. I had never had the opportunity to lead an aircraft maintenance unit while deployed, however, and I welcomed the challenge.

After a few weeks of questions such as, "Who is this new guy?" the unit was ready and I boarded the aircraft as the troop commander. Upon arrival at the deployed location, it was chaotic not only bedding down the 230-person unit, but also learning a new job, meeting new people and readying our aircraft for their first combat sorties.

As the months progressed, we achieved success after success as a battle-tested unit employing weapons in support of ground forces. With our success, we received accolades from not only group and wing leadership, but also the Air Forces Central commander. Our success as a unit was just that - unit success and not individual success - and it was achieved through service-before-self actions from our Airmen, NCOs and senior NCOs with hard work and leadership.

We often cite military or political figures as examples of extraordinary leadership, and I do not doubt that I could write a book on the leadership success stories of my Airmen, NCOs, senior NCOs and company grade officers during our air expeditionary force cycle.

One example is the Airman who flawlessly launched an alert F-16 Fighting Falcon minutes ahead of the required timeline because he displayed tremendous initiative while ensuring his aircraft was 100 percent ready at a moment's notice. Another example is the master sergeant production superintendent who, despite almost impossible odds of fixing multiple non-mission capable aircraft, led a focused plan to repair the aircraft in short order. Because of that, the air tasking order was met and ground forces kept safe. I also recall the inspired first sergeant who personally taught exercise spin classes off- to ensure unit members who were not so "fit to fight" did not return home that way. Some dropped as much as 40 pounds of excess weight.

After two months at the deployed location, the pending maintenance reorganization was cancelled. I learned that once I returned to home station I would transition back to my previous position. The personal and professional growth, as well as the leadership opportunities and challenges that I encountered on the deployment, exceeded those of home station.

Despite personal struggles while deployed, including my spouse dealing with a difficult pregnancy with twins and the death of my grandmother whom I was very close to, it is easy to say that leading the aircraft maintenance unit on the deployment was a highlight of my career.

Some Airmen have deployed numerous times throughout their career while others have never deployed. Often, the 52nd Fighter Wing's Super Saber Performer identifies their most memorable Air Force experience as a deployment. During a deployment, every Airman makes an impact and has a chance to perform their wartime mission and lead. Can-do attitudes, a sense of superior mission accomplishment and improvements for future rotations are all items to strive for and attributes that you will encounter on a deployment. Along with the challenges of a deployment come many unrivaled leadership opportunities.