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September Chief's Perspective

Chief Master Sgt. Steve Mason, 169th Maintenance Squadron

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Steve Mason, the munitions flight chief assignd to the 169th Maintenance Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C, Nov. 30, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Megan Floyd)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

I have served in the U.S. Air Force and the South Carolina Air National Guard for over 33 years, with the last 30 years spent at McEntire. From the beginning, I was told to “fill your squares.” As I grew in my career, my understanding of this short, simple statement became clear. Understand and execute the transition from wrench-turner to mentor.

The journey was long and sometimes difficult, but well worth the lessons learned along the way. One lesson in particular that became a focal point for me as I ascended in rank was the realization that my focus should be on training my replacement. 

As I progressed through the years, I had never given much thought to the importance of everyone being prepared beyond my individual needs, until I approached the end of my time in the Air National Guard. It was then that I realized just how many Airmen had not prepared themselves for the next step in their own career. Reality set in and I became concerned about how we were going to prevent self-elimination and motivate the right people to fill the squares and take the lead.

The term self-elimination speaks for itself and is the best way to describe an individual that cannot or will not complete the requirements needed in order to advance. When someone self-eliminates, the organization is forced to look at someone else who has “filled their squares.”

In sports, there has always been a “next man up” concept and this applies to the military as well. The mission must be executed without fail and for that to happen you must have a full bench. Without qualified individuals ready to take the lead, we as an organization have failed. The questions then become, “How did this happen? Did we sit on our laurels? Were we not paying attention or did we put a priority on other things?”

From an organizational standpoint, this would be a natural reaction. However, I believe we were paying attention and we were communicating to the Airmen about what was expected and required. Ultimately, it is the individual’s responsibility to be ready and able to take the next step in their career. They should have a complete understanding of the organization’s culture as well as the job requirements needed to progress. If they don’t, then you can imagine the surprise that occurs when the “next man up” concept is put into play. This can bring about lower satisfaction, decreased engagement, and increased turnover within the unit which can be detrimental to the individual as well as the organization.

In closing, we cannot afford to have our Airmen self-eliminate if we are going to continue to be the premier fighter unit in the Air National Guard. The people in this organization are our most precious resource and without them, we cannot accomplish our mission. Therefore, it is vital that we ensure the enthusiasm of a new Airman is not wasted and that every senior noncommissioned officer and junior noncommissioned officer takes responsibility to mentor that same Airman so they can “fill your squares.”