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March Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Paul Laymon
  • 169th Security Forces Squadron
I started my athletic career as a high school cross country skier in Northern Minnesota. My plan was to join the Air Force after graduation, continue my skiing career, and eventually secure a spot on the US Biathlon Team. So on my military 'dream sheet,' I selected all the bases which would offer the best access to snow nearly year round. However, this was my first lesson in Air Force needs; I was assigned to sunny Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, where it rarely snows. Ok, Plan B; my running career was launched.

Fast forward two years; I'm an up-and-coming runner/triathlete and a Crew Chief on the C-141 Starlifter. I was working grave shift at the time, and one night I'm riding in the 'bread-truck' waiting to be assigned a task for the evening. It was miserably cold and raining, although snow would have been better. The senior NCO who drove the truck was a crusty Vietnam Vet who had a very interesting way of picking people for tasks. (This was back when you could still smoke most everywhere.) If you were a smoker, as he was, and had one "lit-up", he simply wouldn't pick you.

When the call finally came in that one of our aircraft was put on the flying schedule, I was the lucky non-smoker who was tasked to lube the flap tracks as part of the pre-flight inspection. I was dropped off with a maintenance stand, lube, flashlight, and some rags. About four hours into the job, I'm on the stand, wet and cold, covered in oil, and audibly cursing the day I signed up for all this.

About that time, I heard a voice, mixed in with the rain and flight line noises. At first I ignored it, but then I heard it again, only louder. I looked down, and standing under my stand was Alpha 2, 2nd Lt. Smith (now retired Col. Smith). He had a series of questions focused on what was I doing, where was my help, and had I had any lunch. As an airman first class, I dutifully answered, "lubing flap tracks", "I don't know", and "no". 2nd Lt. Smith turned on his heels and disappeared. Thinking no more of it, I went back to my soggy task at hand.

Within 30 minutes, I had a heat cart, light cart, a box lunch, and was accompanied by two of my smoking buddies. This was a turning point in my life. I learned a valuable lesson that night about what it meant to "take care of your people". The single act of a second lieutenant, who followed his convictions, changed how I looked at authority, and the value of leadership. I knew at some point in my life I wanted to be in a position where I could make such a difference. The other lesson learned that night was never to cross a crusty old Vietnam Vet. That's another story.

After 30 years, I have experienced a great many more significant emotional events and have had wonderful mentors and coaches who helped guide me along the way. My athletic career has seen both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. My military career has been full and I am grateful for every opportunity that I have been given. Seems funny, but everywhere I have worked, the people were always the greatest group I have ever worked with. I'm positive that Security Forces will be the same.

I challenge all of us to follow 2nd Lt. Smith's lead and recognize the opportunity to lift someone up at every opportunity, even on a cold, wet and miserable night. Life is not a marathon, but a series of sprints!