Air Force's leaders of tomorrow...today

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- One of the little secrets they tell us at commanders "charm school", otherwise known as the Commander's Orientation Course, is young folks entering the Air Force today are smarter than we were when we entered.

I knew in my case this surely was no revelation; but as I looked around the room at my new peers I wondered how many of them really believed it. We were told the many sociological reasons behind it, but that's not really the point of this article.

Once I arrived at my squadron, it took no time at all to realize this was a fact. Since day one I've been amazed at the savvy and steep learning curve the new enlisted, junior officers and interns have in units across Vandenberg.

More recently, I had the opportunity to deploy on a North Star exercise for the first time. As a commander I've had the opportunity to go out there for a few hours to witness scenarios, get feedback from the exercise evaluation team and sit through numerous exercise hot-wash briefings. But none of that prepared me for what I was about to witness by actually being part of the deployed team--it was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had during this assignment; in fact, it was awesome.

I saw professionals from almost every career field carry out their duties with precision, enthusiasm and confidence. Civil engineers readiness and post-attack reconnaissance teams conducting chemical detection analysis and PAR activities, medical personnel treating mass casualties and not getting flustered by exercise injects, combat Airman and defender teams successfully repulsing attacks and even "taking the fight to the enemy", communication squadron experts ensuring additional land mobile radio repeaters were put in place to enhance communication, the personnel support team reporting accountability rapidly and everyone being good wingmen by using the buddy system when we went into mission oriented protective posture level 4. As deputy camp commander, I was petrified my ignorance would be revealed, but after witnessing the troop's actions my fears were replaced with awe.

If the story ended there, that would be one thing, but it doesn't. Although it was very cold, rainy and muddy, the camp did not shut down and go to sleep after the EET left and scenarios stopped. Services came out and served a much needed (but not anticipated) delicious, hot meal. CE electrical and power production folks worked overtime to make this happen safely, and everyone pitched in to help set up and tear down, and they prepared the camp for defensive postures anticipated for following scenarios. We had more volunteers than people needed for augmentation teams, and there was not one bad attitude to be found. I am certain when I was new to the Air Force, like many of the deployed were, I could never have performed as well as they did. The exciting thing is this is not just relegated to an exercise here on Vandenberg. I just returned from a real world deployment, and this was the exact same attitude and skill level expertise I had the honor to witness in Afghanistan.

After 20 years of service, I am getting ready to retire this summer. I know without a doubt that I will be leaving an Air Force that is smarter, highly motivated and better trained than the one I entered.

On one level it makes me sad to know I won't be here to witness it much longer, but on a more important level I can live peacefully knowing phenomenal people, like yourselves, will be still be serving and defending our great nation.