The front line supervisor: teacher, mentor, leader

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- As I take time to pause on this Veterans Day to reflect on our nation’s heroes, thoughts of sacrifice, mission dedication and unwavering commitment constantly resonate through me.

There are far too many warriors to name, numerous missions to highlight and so many thanks to give; however, there is one group of steely eyed warriors that I must thank for their commitment and the roles and responsibilities they have honorably accepted that others would shun.

This group is not defined by their combat action, individual accolades, nor are they casted, in part, into our history books. Instead, they define our history. They are entrenched in daily operations and they are the backbone of the U.S. Air Force. This group, the front line supervisor, is charged with the care, training and personal/professional growth of our nation’s most precise resource … Airmen.

The year was 1994 and I had just arrived to Shaw AFB. I had little to no direction in my life but fully believed, at 18, that with six months of experience in the Massachusetts Air National Guard I knew how this Air Force thing worked.

As I strolled into my duty section with my head high and chest out I was immediately confronted by a staff sergeant; she asked, “Airman Hoglund, can I help you find something?” at which time I responded “Nope, I got this.”

The staff sergeant stood there as I exited the far end of the building. No way was I going to say that I was lost or I needed help. I was an Airman with six months of experience, trained in the art of war (basic military training is my only experience at the time) and possessed unmatched technical prowess since I had completed my three level course.

Unbeknownst to me, the staff sergeant whom we will call AWESOME, knew exactly who I was. She had scrubbed the inbound roster and contacted my previous unit to get a head start on her new Airman. She was a front line supervisor warrior.

Over the next two years, Sergeant AWESOME would become the most influential person in my life. She taught, molded and led from the front with an “Airman first” approach. Let me be clear, during these two years I was not a model Airman and would violently argue that I was a handful for Sergeant AWESOME.

I made it easy for her to give up on me as the time and resources I expended on her behalf were immeasurable. However, she remained consistent with three things as a front line supervisor … to teach, mentor and lead.

Even during some of the darkest times of my life, then Sergeant AWESOME, and eventually, Chief Master Sergeant AWESOME would be by my side. She expected the best of me because in her eyes the best could be measured by doing your job, being a great teammate (Wingman) and never quitting on oneself or others.

Her teaching was methodical, conducted morning, noon and night as to influence the sheer importance of our profession. Sharpening the spear and posturing me for success was her number one priority, and frankly the idealism of a front line supervisor. Her ability to mentor both formally and informally was something from a corporate novel; she was always sincere, broke a boot off in the love seat when needed, incredibly passionate and she upheld our institutional core values.

Staff Sergeant AWESOME’s leadership attributes were unparalleled as no task was too difficult and any mission was achievable under her watch.

Much like then, our front line supervisors of today are the backbone of the Air Force. They possess the ability to connect, shape and influence our Airmen and they certainly do not take this duty lightly. It is a responsibility, a calling, that many understand but only few truly know. They will continue to epitomize Integrity, Service and Excellence despite personnel and fiscal challenges. They will teach, mentor and lead our next generation of leaders and will never leave an Airman behind, will never falter and they will not fail.

On this Veterans Day weekend, I say thank you to all of our front line supervisors. Thank you for being in the trenches twenty-four hours a day teaching, mentoring and leading America’s Airmen. The Air Force does not owe me anything, but I owe you - the front line supervisor, and our Air Force - my all!