The importance of leadership

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Cisco Johnston
  • 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron
On June 9, 1968, Air Force Sergeant James D. Locker was killed in action during an attempted rescue of a Marine Corps A-4E Phantom pilot. Sergeant Locker was a highly decorated pararesueman who was awarded the silver star three times, a distinguished flying cross, two purple hearts and eight air medals. I wore a POW/MIA bracelet with his name on it for 15 years.

On Sept. 4, 2003, I took off the bracelet I wore every day in uniform since 1988 because the remains of Sergeant Locker were positively identified from a crash site in Laos.

The discovery of Jolly Green 23’s crash site was not by chance but because of the concerted effort of his friend, former pararescueman Doug McGill, and a host of other folks who used state-of-the-art computer mapping techniques to pinpoint three possible sites. A field team that investigated one of the sites discovered the remains of the helicopter and its crew.

We hear a lot about taking care of people in the Air Force, and I know of no better example of that leadership principle than what occurred in this case. The time and effort expended to find the crash site by retired Air Force personnel is characteristic of pararescuemen and an example of the unit cohesion we should all strive for.

I contacted Sergeant Locker’s mom, Dorothy, and asked her if she would like to have the bracelet I wore for so long. She said she would love it. My bracelet was one of 36 she received.

She went on to write that she “was so happy to know that Jim was not forgotten and that so many people still cared.”

I take great comfort in the people who are serving today because I know that we do care. We care about the people who came before us, the people alongside us, and we care about the future of our Air Force. This attitude translates into a motivated force that communicates effectively and develops into cohesive teams. But it is not always easy. It takes a firm commitment by leadership to maintain this organizational culture. Here are a few things that may help you maintain what has been built up over the years:

1. Show enthusiasm for your organization’s mission. Regardless of the level or scope of your mission, it is a critical component of the total force.

2. Mediate/negotiate, don’t dictate. Talking through organizational challenges ensures you are looking at every conceivable angle and shows trust in your personnel.

3. Make a point to go to your sections and see how folks are doing. If you do this frequently, people will begin to open up about the real issues in the workplace.

4. Promote followership through your own actions. Your method of acceptance and compliance of higher level taskings will become theirs. Leaders ensure their organizations’ objectives become their own.

5. Know the responsibilities of each enlisted rank. Read AFI 36-2618, Enlisted Force Structure. It is the enlisted force structure that defines us as Airmen, rather than merely specialists.

These are just a few of numerous initiatives that build cohesive teams. I encourage you to take advantage of the many avenues available right here at Lakenheath to sharpen your leadership skills. One of the easiest ways is to attend one of the many professional development courses offered through the career assistance advisor. The variety of courses and dates will meet any schedule or educational requirements you have.

Finally, 36 years after Sergeant Locker set out on that June morning in 1968, he was laid to rest in Ohio where he was born. More than 400 people attended the ceremony where an Air Force honor guard bore Sergeant Locker’s body to his final resting place.

With tears streaming down his face, Doug McGill slowly raised his hand to salute his friend and softly said, “Welcome home, brother. Welcome home.”