PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Senior Master Sgt. Raymond Artis, 721st Mission Support Group superintendent of plans and programs, and Master Sgt. Ashley Strong, 21st Medical Squadron dental flight chief, and talk to them about what it means to be a senior leader, mentorship and the future of the Air Force. Both were named Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2017.
To what do you attribute your accomplishment to being named OAY?
Artis: I want to attribute my accomplishments to my family first. I was stationed at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, being there with that mission set, is kind of like a deployed environment. You always have to be ready to fight tonight. The fact that my family and wife can hold it down at home, that gives me all the support to do what I need to do there, which is take care of the people and take care of the mission at the same time. Success is a team sport.
Strong: I think building a strong team and then trusting that team to carry out the mission, do their jobs and do them well is a huge contributing factor to building any winning package. I was blessed to have that with mine. We have the smartest Airmen in the Air Force and we get really caught up sometimes in millennials and Generation Xers and Yers and I don’t think that matters. I think if you trust people and give them the resources they need to do their job and do it well and you allow them to create a freedom to surprise you, you’ll be absolutely blown away by what your team can do.
You mention millennials and upcoming junior Airmen. A lot of times what you see is mentorship - getting people into the Air Force way of thinking and culture of the Air Force - how important is it to a junior Airman to have a mentor? What do you see in yourself that makes you a mentor towards junior Airmen?
Strong: I don’t even think it’s for a junior Airman, I think all Airmen should have a mentor. I’ve had some great mentors in my career. I’ve had people pull me to the side and tell me when I’ve needed some course correction and I’ve always been appreciative of someone being straight forward and not beating around the bush by telling me what I need to know and why. I’ve tried to carry that trait forward as well. I always think it’s a huge compliment for someone to ask you to mentor them, but with that comes a big responsibility as well.
Can you recount a time when a mentor made an impression on you or gave you much needed guidance?
Artis: I’ve had a lot of good mentors. I’ve learned from everything, the bad and good experiences. With me it’s about caring and how much the mentor actually cares about me, looks at my career and asks me questions and gets to know me. We can’t do this by ourselves, it’s impossible. You can feel like you don’t need anybody, but when it comes down to it you need someone to help guide you down the correct path.
Strong: I’ve had a lot of great mentors. One that’s always stood out to me is retired Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Turner. When I was an Airman Basic I didn’t know that I needed a mentor, but he knew that I did. He’d ask me what the Air Force priority and core values were and if I understood them and what my plan was for my next stripe, he made me form a plan of action, he stayed with me throughout my career and every time I go to test he mails me the stripes before the results come out, so talk about pressure right? Even still, to this day, he sends me words of encouragement.
It seems like a lot of mentorship is what is keeping motivation high. When times are getting tough or dealing with adverse conditions, what keeps you motivated?
Strong: I’m part of the 5 a.m. club. I’m up pretty early. If you want to get a lot of stuff done you’ve got to get up earlier. The reality is when I wake up I have a flight of Airmen that expect me to come to work with motivation, so I can’t be tired for them. Whenever I need energy and motivation it’s easy to look to people that have it. Motivation feeds motivation.
Artis: Passion drives a lot of things, passion for the people and the job. Seeing other Airmen look to you and come to you for help keeps you motivated for sure.
Between the two of you there’s over 30 years of experience here. You’ve worked for lots of different leaders with different leadership styles. How do you maintain trust in leadership with a leadership style that might not work for you?
Strong: I love the dynamics of leadership in the Air Force. You always have your favorite, but I do notice that I learn a lot more from people that have a different leadership style. Every leader has dimensions and aspects to their leadership style, you can attach yourself to any type of style. There’s also something to learn.
For younger Airmen, to trust in your leadership you really do have to walk the walk. It’s as simple as that. When junior Airmen see you following your leader, especially when it’s not a popular decision but the right one, that goes a long way toward people trusting in your leadership
Artis: It starts with trust. Every leader wants to succeed. The way every one approaches a problem is going to be a little different, but at the end of the day everyone wants to succeed. Sometimes people forget that. You have to adapt to your leaders the same way your Airmen have to adapt to you. It’s about making the team better. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and we go back to the drawing board, but at least we tried.
Let’s shift focus a little bit to the future. Since you’ve both enlisted, there has been a culture shift in the Air Force. We’ve been on a war footing for over 15 years, there have been societal changes in the United States that the Air Force has had to keep up with. How do you keep up with the changes, and for Airmen coming in right now, how do they keep up with changes that will be coming up in the next 15-20 years?
Artis: Flexibility. We have to be a highly flexible force. A lot of times you don’t know what’s going to change until it does. Our leaders are in a position to do right by us and set us up for success. We’re not always going to get things right, but as long as we keep trying we’ll be fine, no matter what the change is. Right now we have the best Top Three I’ve seen since I’ve been in. From Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, to Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, we have some great leadership at the top. You have to adapt. If you don’t agree with that, you always have a chance to leave.
Strong: We get too wrapped up in the change and how we facilitate that, but our Airmen that come in today, we tell them ‘in today’s Air Force this’ or ‘today’s Air Force that,’ but this is the only Air Force that they know, so today is their Air Force. They don’t know a different Air Force. Sometimes we (senior leadership) can be the ones to jack that up and give a different impression. The truth is the Air Force is phenomenal right now, this is the best organization to be a part of at this time. Our Airmen coming in are flexible, they are adaptable. As long as we’re communicating the change and the reason why behind that change, and not just changing for the sake of change but have a purpose and reason and that’s communicated, our Airmen are going to jump on board, especially when they see their leaders walking the walk.
Let’s pretend you’re an Airmen Basic, what piece of advice do you give to her just coming out of basic training?
Strong: Enjoy the process. Enjoy day by day. Love the opportunity you’re going to be given, the people you’ll meet, the places you’ll go, the experience you’ll have. I never thought in a million years I’d be here after growing up on a tiny little farm in Alabama. Do the absolute best you can and if it’s not good enough try again tomorrow.
To see the entire interview check the 21st Space Wing at: link