BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
Sometimes the best connections can bloom from a simple phone call or friendly email -- at least that’s how the events of February 23 started for me.
My name is Technical Sergeant Adam Wilkinson, and I am an Operational Intelligence Analyst. Currently I serve as the Deputy Chief of Nuclear Command, Control and Communication Threats for the Eighth Air Force and Joint Global Strike Operations Center within Air Force Global Strike Command. A role that began Feb. 1, 2020. It wasn’t long thereafter that I expressed my interest in the AFGSC Striker Titan internship program, and was encouraged to reach out to Chief Master Sgt. Melvina Smith for more guidance and information.
Chief Smith welcomed all of my questions about the program, and cleared time to sit down with me to conduct a deliberate development plan. We met several times over a period of two months to review different career and mentoring options. This allowed me ample time to develop a plan that would help me gain sufficient on-the-job experience, and eventually push my application to the Striker Titan Program the following year. One month later, COVID -19 happened, and due to quarantine and risk mitigation plans, my plan lost focus and communication with Chief Smith subsequently fell off.
Fast forward to one year later in February 2021, I sent an email to Chief Smith simply wanting to check in and see how her family had faired amid the events over the last year. At the end of the email I inquired about the application window for Striker Titan, which Chief Smith sadly informed me that due to COVID-19 the application window got moved around and I had just missed the closeout deadline.
However, with the bad news also came some good news. Chief Smith invited me to shadow her for a day and asked if that was something I would be interested in. It didn’t take me long to say, “yes” and a date was set.
The afternoon prior to the shadowing day, I showed up to Chief’s office and received an end-of-day synchronization meeting, where leadership runs through the “plan of attack” for the next day’s activities. The executive staff was diligent and methodical in outlining the day for the command team, ensuring their time was balanced for both personal wellbeing and attention toward the Airmen under their umbrella of command.
The next morning, I met Chief Smith in her office where her smile and enthusiasm greeted me as we rolled into the first task of the day -- the morning synchronization meeting. I listened diligently as her assistant provided a refresher of what was on her schedule for the day. The big event for the day was the Air Force Global Strike First Sergeant Symposium, a week-long event with all first sergeants under AFGSC to collaborate on mission focus, problem solving ideas and methods. Chief’s role for the first day of the symposium was to meet with all of the first sergeants under 8th Air Force to discuss mentoring and mission focus.
As a leader, how and what you communicate is important. Chief Smith identified a need to update the speaking material and organize the talking points for the symposium brief. We all sat down to review the notes and how they could be improved. It was amazing to watch the flow of information between the staff and Chief Smith and how in sync they were with each other’s thoughts.
Unfortunately, the chief’s computer did not want to properly connect to the teleconference, which proved that even senior leadership is not impervious to common computer issues. She made the decision to press ahead with the teleconference from her assistant’s work station. She knew the needs of the first sergeants outweighed the comfort of working from her own desk.
Watching Chief Smith talk and interact with the first sergeants was an enlightening experience. She constantly conveyed her care for Airmen and passion for the mission. She took time to ensure the shirts had all the tools they needed to accomplish their mission.
After the breakout panel it was time for lunch. Chief and I had the opportunity to discuss life, family, passions, and career goals in and out of the Air Force. She emphasized how important having a supportive spouse is, especially when a member is coming up in the ranks.
We ended the day with a small mentoring exercise. Chief has a deck of “empowering question” cards on her table, with questions such as, “How would I like to be encouraged right now?” or “What gives me great joy?” These types of questions motivated me to self-reflect. We went through about four of these questions and discussed our answers together. That exercise really helped me understand some of the reasons why Chief Smith has the kind of devoted passion that she exemplifies every day at work. This tactic is something I would like to integrate into my own leadership style.
With all of the events that happened during my day of shadowing Chief Smith, I could see how it would be easy to lose track of time. However, I hardly noticed the time passing us by because she is a person you can easily strike up a conversation with. I appreciate this experience for giving me the chance to see how all the different units come together into one big team and fulfill the continuing mission of the Mighty Eighth.
It fills me with pride to have leaders like Chief Smith driving the 8th AF/J-GSOC forward. And to think, my new found perspective all started with one simple email.