The call to lead: Leadership isn't about you - it's about 'us'

Chief Master Sgt. David Dock, Headquarters, Air Force Space Command, Directorate of Manpower, Personnel and Services

Chief Master Sgt. David Dock, Headquarters, Air Force Space Command, Directorate of Manpower, Personnel and Services

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- I was at the top of my game - a technical sergeant on the leading edge. I completed a tour as the wing commander's crew chief, traveling to 29 countries and 41 states. I was selected to be an aircraft maintenance instructor, awarded two Instructional Achievement Awards and received a master instructor rating. My technical abilities and leadership potential garnered me a new position: active-duty technical advisor for the Air National Guard. The possibilities were endless. I remember thinking, "Somebody pinch me because it can't get any better than this."

In the summer of 2003, this pinch came during a phone call from my local military personnel flight.

"Congratulations, Tech. Sgt. Dock," said a personnel Airman. "You've been selected for retraining under the Noncommissioned Officer Retraining Program,"

My world stopped. "Do they not know who I am?"

"We have a list of 19 jobs you get to choose from, and you have 10 duty days to decide," the personnel Airman said. My world slowly started moving again. Maybe there was another job just like mine I could transition into. I pondered the list for seven days, still concerned that none of the options would truly show what I brought to the table.

Out of nowhere, a new spin was added to my ride when my supervisor walked into my office and said, "Congratulations, Dave. You've made master sergeant."

Elation flew through me as I never expected to make the promotion list on my first attempt.

I grabbed the phone to call my wife but when I picked it up, there was someone else on the line - the personnel Airman.

"Since you've been selected for master sergeant, the retraining list is no longer valid," he said. "Your new list is here and you can select a position from the four career fields available."

Yes, that personnel Airman said "four." As if that didn't dampen my elation after I retrieved my puny options list, my supervisor informed me that an NCO had been injured and could no longer attend the NCO Academy. Since I was his alternate, I was now going to the academy in two weeks.

While prepping for the academy, I completed an interview for a manpower and organization position. During the interview and algebra test, I was instructed to write a paper on why I wanted to work in the manpower career field, but I opted out. It would be unproductive, I felt, to write about a topic that wasn't true and the chief agreed.

Believing I had blown the interview, I went to the NCO Academy and waited for the Air Force to dole out my fate. A week into the Academy, the news came - I would attend Manpower Apprentice School after returning from the academy.

I now felt like I was now at the bottom of my game! How could the Air Force overlook what I brought to the fight? The tools and abilities I brandished every day were unmatched, I felt. I went to the only person I felt could fix this, the first mentor I had - Chief Master Sgt. Larry Lowe. Whenever there was a crisis, retired Chief Lowe could right any ship. I just knew he would call powerful people and right the wrongs thrust upon me. Instead, he changed my career - not to mention my entire outlook on the Air Force - with a few words when he said, "Dave, why are you in the Air Force?"

"Because I love what I do and great people like you taught me how to be successful," I said.

"If I taught you to be a crew chief, then I failed," Chief Lowe said. "If I did my job right, I taught you to be a leader. The Air Force is asking you, based on their confidence in your abilities, to be a leader. Whether you're a crew chief or manpower craftsman, as a senior NCO you will lead. You are at the NCO Academy now, where you have been honored with the opportunity to hone your skills and enter a new chapter in your career. I know you will become a chief master sergeant some day, but I never once said you would do it as a crew chief. You always understood that it's not about you - it's about us. So what are you going to do?"

The Air Force is continuing to transition to a leaner force. Many of you are at the top of your game and could soon receive the call to lead, step out of your comfort zone and do what the Air Force needs you to do. You will be asked to remember the simple concepts Chief Lowe taught me: be a leader, do what is right and never forget that it is not about you - it's about us.