By Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson, 120th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
/ Published December 03, 2015
GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Chief Master Sgt. Steven Lynch has served as 120th Airlift Wing's Command Chief for nearly eight months.
During that time he has held the top enlisted position of an organization facing the challenges of an aircraft conversion and implementing a new enlisted performance rating system for many of its personnel.
I sat down to interview Chief Lynch prior to the December unit training assembly and asked some important questions concerning his goals for the enlisted members, the challenges that lie ahead and what the future may mean for our younger Airmen.
Q: Could you please provide a brief history of your military career?
A: I began my career with the United States Air Force in June of 1978, right after high school, enlisting in the open mechanical career field.
I completed basic training and got to the point where I had to make a final decision on my career path. I remember seeing the back cover of a magazine that had a photo of an H3 helicopter, and I thought, "That's what I want to work on."
After basic training I went on to attend technical training at Shepard Air Force Base. Following my training, I was assigned to the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base as a helicopter crew chief.
I served my four years there and met my wife Ann during that time. I elected to turn down an assignment to Yakota Air Base, Japan and left active duty.
Ann and I were married shortly thereafter. I found work with a fixed-base operator here at the Great Falls International Airport. My civilian employer supplied fuel for the C-131 Samaritan that the Montana Air National Guard flew at the time as a support aircraft. This is how I was able to meet the folks at the guard.
In June of 1985 I enlisted as a crew chief on the F-106 Delta Dart. I later worked on F-16A/B, F-16C/D models and in 2004 I was hired into the phase dock, or the inspection section, where we performed major inspections. I worked there until June 2008 and at that time I was hired as the superintendent of quality assurance in the Maintenance Group where I attained the rank of chief master sergeant. I served in that capacity until April of this year.
Q: What goals had you set in your early career?
A: I was really wrapped up in just being the best aircraft mechanic I could be. I really enjoyed that. I remember the day that I got hired into my civilian job there were 25 employees. Two weeks after I got hired there were only five of us remaining, a result of downsizing due to the poor economy. To be successful meant we really had to be innovators and take on any kind of work we could find, and we did just that.
Bringing that mindset into the guard really made it exciting for me. I took what I had learned from my active duty experience and civilian job and applied it here.
I loved airplanes, I loved being around them. And that was it. That's all I wanted to do. Everything thereafter was a stair step. I was an assistant crew chief but I wanted to be a crew chief. I ended up a crew chief on an F-16A model which I crewed exclusively for 11 years, and those were some of my greatest times.
Looking back, it was the perfect transition to moving on to the phase dock. I started to see some things during my tenure in the dock shop that I felt were ripe for change. I worked with some of the best mechanics in the force, but we weren't sharing what we knew. It was fueling my desire to become the chief of quality assurance. I really felt I could affect some positive change to instill in folks; the idea that we should always improve how we do business and to effect change. We were living with the mistakes that were in the system and accepting them or working around them. We understood the problems, we knew the fix, but we unintentionally kept it a secret. We weren't affecting change, i.e. Identifying the corrections and suggesting the fixes in the appropriate manner to make it better for the total force. I saw the value and necessity in that and thought that I could facilitate the necessary change in culture.
My team in the phase dock at the time grasped that concept, took it and ran with it, and I think we recommended more technical order changes in that four years than I can recall at any other time in my career. I saw it there and I knew given the chance I could help foster the idea across the entire Maintenance Group with the help of a great quality assurance team.
Q: What came to your mind when you were first offered this assignment?
A: I was extremely interested in the position from the start. I had always felt a deep desire to give back, to serve the organization and its Airmen that had given me all the opportunities I have enjoyed over the years. However, the hardest part for me was the fact that I hadn't completed my Community College of the Air Force degree. I struggled with it on a very personal level because I knew the requirement was about to be levied upon us as a prerequisite for future promotions to E-8 and E-9 and I hadn't completed it and didn't feel qualified to apply. In pondering this dilemma with my wife I was reminded how I had advised people in the past, suggesting to them something like, "If you are comfortable with your lot in life, then it might be time for you to move on-get uncomfortable and stay challenged." So my wife told me, "You need to listen to your own advice."
I didn't have to think about the decision anymore because she of course was right. I knew that the only way I could reconcile with myself was to be very candid about my position with regards to CCAF and strive to complete it during my tenure.
Q: You became a member of the Montana Air National Guard when our unit was in a fighter aircraft mission. What do you see for the future as we continue our conversion to the airlift mission?
A: We're in a very historic time right now in this unit. Obviously, the mission change from fighter to airlift is driving perhaps the largest collective retraining we have ever faced. The timing couldn't have been better to experience the sheer scope of our construction projects and the wonderful opportunity to serve with a seasoned dual-status commander.
Sometimes we tend to lament over how the guard was as we wrestle with change. I believe two things about us will never change. First, the family aspect. It's truly the best of who we are and we see it every day. Second, how we serve our community and state. Those very significant aspects will never be taken away from us. Always keep that in mind.
Those of us in the Air National Guard community are now an operational reserve; no longer are we the strategic reserve of the past and much more is asked of us. Our professional standards must be the same across the total force. Change is constant. Just look back at the world one year ago, we have to flex. Flexibility and adaptability; we have to embrace them because they are the norm. Flexibility should be an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) component!
Q: What do you think is the most important thing a command chief can do for our organization?
A: I want the Airmen to know that I'm always out there looking to help them reach their maximum potential. My charge is to help them achieve. I want them to understand the value of being prepared. Most importantly, if our mission is to endure we need to build our bench of leaders to lead this organization into the future.
We must ensure that their families are taken care of and make sure that when members deploy, they and their families are given the tools they will need. Our family and Yellow Ribbon Programs help support and expose them to a variety of other resources as well.
I want to be the link from our Airmen to the Enlisted Field Advisory Committee (EFAC). I continue to be an advocate for innovation. I want them to know that they can come to me with any ideas that they think might make their career, life, education, mission or organization better. I want to be the conduit and encourage those ideas to keep coming up.
The new Enlisted Performance Report (EPR) was one example of a ground floor initiative through the EFAC because our Airmen wanted feedback on a formal level.
I would like to continue to improve our relationship with our brethren at Malmstrom Air Force Base. Through that relationship, we've seen so many great opportunities to capitalize. For instance, thanks to one of our outstanding lean-forward Airmen who saw a need, she reached out to MAFB and was able to bring a bullet writing course here to the wing. In addition, we were able to fill classes at Malmstrom. It's not a one-way street. We have Airmen on MPA tours filling needed vacancies at Malmstrom, year after year, many of whom are working in their respective AFSC's and honing their skillsets, while others who are outside of their AFSC are expanding their skills in a different way. That is total force in motion.
Q: Why has completing the CCAF and professional military education on time become so important at our wing?
A: We are in a perfect storm if you will. We have quite a few folks who still need to complete their Senior NCO Academy and they are already behind the curve. Now add the CCAF requirement and it has become even more challenging and stressful for them. I want to help them get through it and get them connected with others who have worked through it themselves to share that knowledge.
The future is bright and I know our junior ranks are getting the message. While I track CCAF completion I can see the trend and it's headed in the right direction. It's the tenured folks who are really having a collective struggle. They need to know that I will help them do whatever they can to get through that and become successful.
Q: What are some of the important issues you plan on tackling during your tenure as Command Chief?
A: Obviously I would like to see us get through the challenges of CCAF, continue to improve on our fitness and achieve greater completion rates for the Senior NCO Academy. I would also like to maximize opportunities for the follow on in-residence Airmen Leadership Experience.
My goal is to see every new master sergeant have their Senior NCO Academy completed within the first two years of their promotion. That is a critical time as you are waiting to become time in grade eligible. Make the best use of that time to get it done. This is the same for CCAF. There's a time in your life and career where it's much easier, and the sooner in your career the better. Once you get past that critical time and start rolling without it, it gets much harder to accomplish.
I don't see square filling as a dirty word. I want people to look at this as the continuing education component of the whole Airman concept. You can't sit down one day early in your career and say, "This is it, this is where I want to be," to justify to yourself why you do not need to progress in your PME. Someday, something may change in your life that may drive you to want to further your career. Make a conscience decision early in your career not to fill the square and an opportunity comes by that you wish you really had, you're no longer competitive for it. I think people do go through that and I don't want people to have regrets in their career. I want them to be able to set themselves up for success. Finally I would like to expose as many Airmen to the total force and get them out to visit the Air National Guard Readiness Center, or participate in the ANG Enlisted Leadership Symposiums, or perhaps events like the recent Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium. Events like these spark the imagination. They reinforce the truth that we are an integral part of something larger and how exciting that really is. Just ask anyone who has participated. They all came back excited, reenergized and wanting to share newfound insights with their fellow Airmen. I wish to expose some of our youngest Airmen as well as our NCO's and senior NCO's to these events when the opportunities present themselves.
Q: What is wing-level stratification? What does it means to Airman? Does it affect future promotion potential?
A: I see it as a tool to prepare our senior NCOs for future opportunities. Remember wing-level stratifications are for promotion eligible E-7s and E-8s. Let's say you wanted to become the new wing human resources advisor, or you may be a candidate for Stripes for Exceptional Performer (STEPPII for E-8-E-9), or you wish to compete for a STAT tour at the NGB, or a group chief, or perhaps the next command chief, or beyond.
Wing-level stratification helps us focus on those promotion-eligible senior NCO's and break down what they have done in their career. Not only PME, but perhaps what they do that positively affects the wing outside of performing their AFSC specific duties, for example membership in the Top 3. There are many, many opportunities for people to help outside of their specialties. Look at stratification like a snapshot. What that says is you are ready to move on should you desire to answer the call. As far as promotions within your AFSC go, as a rule we are unit vacancy driven. For example, hypothetically there are three crew chiefs that are technical sergeants. There are two in a technical sergeant slot and one in a master sergeant slot on the unit manning document. The only individuals who are going to compete for that master slot are the promotion eligible crew chiefs. If someone is a technical sergeant somewhere else in the wing they won't be considered for that crew chief position. The crew chiefs would compete at their squadron or group level and the squadron or group would determine, based upon the performance and training of the three crew chiefs, who would be selected for promotion.
Strive to be the best that you can be and set yourself up for that promotion. But understand you're not going to compete across the wing for a unit vacancy promotion outside your AFSC. However, you will compete across the wing for certain non-AFSC specific senior NCO positions and wing-level stratification will most likely be a consideration.
Q: What programs will our wing use to help recognize the outstanding work of our Airmen?
A: We have been aware for a long time that we haven't been recognizing our folks as often as we should.
I've heard comments like, "A coin is a more effective way to recognize," or "I'd rather stand up and recognize them in front of their peers." These are indeed great ways to recognize and should always be used at the appropriate time. But we need to tell their story through federal recognition as well.
While I'm chairing promotion boards I take many notes. What a person wears on their chest is their history and it's a story of their career. It's painful to me when we have someone come through the Top 3 Board that has no federal recognition at all. That's something you are going to see change. We hear in all of the command level briefings the great things we are doing, we have captured the data, we highlight all the problems we have solved, challenges we have overcome, etc. Somehow we hadn't been connecting that in the awards program.
The quarterly awards program is asking us to identify on a personal level those elements of the great things our Airmen are doing. As we write those bullets down, those bullets will live on and it's a record that we can use to quantify federal recognition down the road.
EPR data will be a great source as well to start to develop a history. The more we write the better we get.
I once challenged our senior NCO candidates to write an achievement medal nomination for their Airmen. I am following up on that challenge. If we don't push that culture shift and make it the norm we're going to end up right where we were. We let the day-to-day things get in the way and we don't get that recognition done.
Q: Why is the new EPR program so important to our enlisted members?
A: It's called the Airman Comprehensive Assessment. The EPR is merely the wrap-up of the reporting period.
What's really important is to sit down and work with your Airmen. Communicate expectations up front, continue at the mid-term using the feedback form. Have those discussions again and get an understanding of where the Airman is in his or her expectations, as well as yours as a supervisor.
For a DSG (Drill Status Guardsman) the ACA period is two years and as an AGR it is every year. Aside from the initial expectations, at the one-year mark (6 mos. for AGR) is where you sit down and do your feedback session with the ACA form.
I encourage Airmen and their supervisors to use this tool to the fullest because much of that form is a direct input from the ratee.
Q: Do you have any advice for our younger Airmen who may find themselves involved in an evolving or changing Air National Guard?
A: Be open to flex, because it's not going to change. We heap many functions into one position it's getting more difficult to manage. Innovation is critical.
How do we solve these problems? Be a forward thinker; that cannot be understated. It is easy to resort to circular thinking, meaning we sit back and admire the problems but do nothing to solve them. Instead, be a linear thinker, a problem solver, look ahead and don't get stuck in the mere admiration of a problem. Find solutions. That is what we need in today's Airmen.
Q: What would you want our Airmen to do when they see you visiting their areas?
A: I like to get out and visit but if I'm out there and I somehow don't head your way I would ask that they come and engage with me, particularly if I haven't met them before.
The face of our organization is ever changing so I love to get out and meet our new Airmen. I am so impressed by the level of Airmen who are coming into the organization and that really gives me great hope and I want to hear what they have to say.
You hear so much bad out there; about the generational differences and how things may not be the same and people's values aren't necessarily the same. But I find quite the opposite when I'm out visiting these folks and that's inspiring to me.
I would like to emphasize what a great year it has been. Yes, there have been phenomenal challenges but there have been equally phenomenal solutions.
Incredible new requirements have been levied and we have struggled to fit them into our day-to-day lives and still do them justice.
You have had your work centers uprooted on several fronts, yet you do not miss a beat. You are travelling around the world contributing and making a reputation where we are requested by name. We have seen the air terminal come together and the completion of the long-awaited facility. We've had a detour in our maintenance facilities but the way ahead is set.
Earlier I talked about looking back at the world to appreciate the changes over the year. Just look at the wing. Think about how we see things now and how we saw them at the beginning of the year. You have overcome much and are ready to solve the next set of challenges. To see the collective achievements from my view is overwhelming and inspiring. It is easy to get wrapped up in the day to day issues. I ask that you remember to take the time to take care of you and yours. The importance of doing so cannot be overstated.
As you reflect please take time to remember those we have lost this year and to thank those who have retired. To those who have recently elected to serve, our newest members, welcome! You are our future!
I wish each and every one a wonderful and joyous holiday season and a wonderful new year! We indeed have much to be thankful for! Thank you for all that that you do every day!