Commentary: Will you be ready to meet the board?

Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Eric Jaren: Command Chief, Air Force Materiel Command

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Beginning September 2010, airmen assigned to the Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command who are selected to compete for quarterly awards will be required to physically appear before a military selection board. Twelve Outstanding Airmen of the Year finalists will be required to physically appear before a board as well.

In addition to evaluating the member’s military image, the board will consider military bearing, communication skills and knowledge of issues impacting the Air Force. Airmen will even be expected to recite the Airman’s Creed.

Placing emphasis back on the individual is the primary reason for restoring face-to-face boards. A recognition program should be an opportunity for airmen to stand out from their peers. Unfortunately, this distinction cannot always be captured by merely reading bullet statements crafted by the most gifted writer in the organization, as the current ‘records only’ system restricts us to. Once again, it’s time to Hold the Line.

Fifth Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor talks about the importance of balancing ‘High Tech’ and ‘High Touch.’ Chief Gaylor says, “There’s nothing better than face-to-face communication to get your message across.”

This was an important element of recognition boards early in my career. The process fostered interaction between supervisors and subordinates. Often times the entire section would be involved preparing its representative to meet the board. We need that back!

Another benefit of meeting a face-to-face board is the opportunity for personal growth to occur. An early supervisor of mine used to say, “If you are not uncomfortable, then you are not growing.”

We witnessed the transformation of an airman during a succession of boards. At his first board, he was so nervous that he actually had difficultly responding to questions. However, his incredible achievements during the award period propelled him to win that board.

To better prepare him for the next level, his supervisor organized several mock boards. I was shocked at the change when he met the next board a couple of weeks later. He introduced himself to the board and articulately responded to their questions. It was immediately apparent how comfortable he was — a different person.

A supervisor’s involvement in the development of his or her junior airmen transcends a military face-to-face board. Scottish novelist, poet and politician John Buchan said, “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” During the process, a junior member grows, and sometimes the senior member grows too!

A common concern associated with this initiative has been whether or not deployed airmen would receive a fair chance. Many installations implemented records only boards following 9/11 because too many airmen were unable to physically appear before the board due to high deployment tempos. We will have procedures in place so that deployed airmen are not adversely affected by their absence. Also, while our airmen will predominately face the board in person, the board president will retain authority to conduct a records only board when situations dictate the need.

My main concern is having an airman appear before the board unprepared. We as senior leaders have distinct responsibilities regarding the preparation and development of our juniors.

Airmen, it is the job of your supervisors to give you the tools to succeed. If you don’t have a military supervisor in your unit, you need to seek assistance from another unit.

Supervisors, your personal involvement in preparing your airmen is critical to their success.

Senior leaders, we must be active in our span of influence to ensure airmen are engaged.

Addressing that, we have revised the headquarters operating instruction for enlisted and company grade officer quarterly and annual awards. And, of course, any airman is free to request assistance from any senior NCO to prepare for the board.

Face-to-face boards will offer the advantage of meeting, interviewing and hearing the perspective of our best and brightest before selecting a winner. This is a much more valid measure than just reading bullet statements. I can’t wait to get started!