Will you be ready when you get the call?

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- One of the themes over the past six months in the 30th Space Wing (and overall Air Force) has been about expecting and embracing change. Both the fast-paced world we live in and dynamic battlespace we fight in demand Airmen who can easily adapt to change.

Another avenue of change involves preparing for unexpected professional challenges - those opportunities that will inevitably come your way. Will you be ready?

As a young captain, I was assigned to a spacelift acquisition program office. We were preparing to acquire the nation's next space launcher but were largely spinning our wheels as the Air Force and the nation couldn't come to consensus on the way forward. On a whim, I decided to take a four-day course on Quality Function Deployment. QFD is a systematic process developed in Japan to assess and prioritize customer requirements and then to integrate those requirements throughout engineering and manufacturing processes for a given product. I took the course because I had heard a pitch by Lockheed Martin on how they were incorporating QFD into their processes for space acquisition programs. I attended the course and dutifully filed the certificate in my desk drawer.

Several months later, I received a fateful call from my commander at home. He told me that the ongoing Space Launch Modernization Study led by Lt. Gen. Thomas Moorman in Washington wanted to employ a QFD process. He said he had volunteered me to facilitate. I fleetingly sputtered something about having only had a short course on it and not really being qualified to lead one. He would have none of it. Within days, I was on a plane to Washington.

Fortunately, I managed to hold my own and ended up coming out of the experience with a few valuable nuggets. First, it's important to always be on the lookout for ways to improve your expertise, broaden your perspective or hone your leadership skills. An unforeseen opportunity or challenge could be right around the corner and the more tools you put in your toolbox, the better prepared you will be to respond.

Second, in addition to hard work, there is a certain degree of luck involved in getting the job you want or achieving your career goals. You can help make your own luck by continuously striving to improve yourself and broadening your horizons. Don't hesitate to volunteer for projects that are outside of your area of expertise or comfort zone.

Third, never squander times when mission ops tempo is low. Rather, take the time to sow the seeds that will later bear fruit when the mission might demand it.

Finally, be sure to pay attention in class because someone might confuse a course completion certificate with expertise!

Even though the above lessons appear focused at the individual level, they have significant implications for units as well. A unit relies on its individual Airmen and teams to identify opportunities, inspire change and blaze new trails. Otherwise, a unit will struggle to adapt in our ever changing environment. Leadership at all levels must encourage their Airmen to seek new ideas, grow personally and professionally, and prepare for the next challenge that might lie ahead.

It's impossible to know when a new challenge might unexpectedly land at your feet, but you can take action ahead of time to help prepare. Will YOU be ready when you get the call?