Development of a Squadron Commander
By Col. Donald Sheets, 21st Dental Squadron Commander
/ Published July 23, 2014
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in the 21st Medical Group's change of command ceremony which saw the outgoing commander, Col. Mike Burke, pass the guide-on to the incoming commander, Col. Susan Moran. It was a special privilege to serve as the commander of troops during the ceremony. I also had the opportunity the next day to attend and participate in Col. Burke's retirement ceremony. A large part of the week was devoted to the change of command and the retirement. Preparation for the week provided me an opportunity to reflect back as I assumed command of the 21st Dental Squadron just one short year ago as my very first squadron command.
Indeed, command is an awesome responsibility and distinct honor. The obligation to lead an organization while continually working hard to develop our future leaders cannot be understated.
Before I took command of my first squadron, my career was focused on education (residency training, board certification, professional military education, etc.), practicing my clinical specialty by treating many patients, and teaching residents. I held many flight command and director positions but my first squadron command would prove in one short year a quite different and rewarding experience.
During my journey as an airman basic through the rank of colonel, through 14 years of post-high school education, academic degrees, certifications, publications, and many teaching and clinical positions, I have benefited from tremendous mentors, educators, supervisors and commanders along the way. These individuals saw potential in me and took the time to develop me not only as a medic, but also as an Air Force officer and leader. We have a relatively short time to serve our country, lead and develop our people.
The experiences I have had along the way to include my enlisted service, multiple flight commands, as well as my teaching experiences have prepared me for the rigors of squadron command. It is important that a squadron commander is groomed for command by being pushed for the appropriate developmental opportunities throughout their career by their mentors, educators, supervisors, and commanders. Appropriate assignments that ensure a broad operational experience as well as appropriate Professional Military Education are essential to building a foundation for a successful squadron commander. I have personally found that I was well prepared for squadron command. Over my career, I was pushed in the right direction by outstanding leaders who recognized the importance of developing our people.
Mentorship is one of the most important responsibilities we have as leaders and Airmen. I was prepared because my mentors pushed me in the right direction. While I do find myself from time to time missing the daily interaction and professional gratification of practicing my specialty and teaching residents, I take great pride in leading my organization by example. As leaders it is our responsibility to develop our Air Force's future leaders and our replacements to ensure that our country's military stays strong.
Another key element of leadership I have learned over my Air Force career is leading by example. Being physically fit is a perfect example of leading by example. I am a firm believer if we are fit both physically and mentally we will be a more productive force. Being physically fit does not just happen, it takes time, effort. As leaders we should be leading our Airmen during wing war fits. While every Airman is accountable for their own fitness, we as leaders should also be putting forth the extra incentive for our Airmen who struggle with fitness.
In addition, providing and receiving feedback is another key element of leadership. As leaders we are expected to communicate clearly and concisely. I have personally found that regular feedback sessions with our Airmen enhance the communicative process and allow us to criticize and praise where necessary. I am a strong advocate of an open, professional relationship and I believe the ability to provide feedback and communicate with our Airmen is essential to developing them to be the next generation of leaders.
I recently ran into my first Air Force commander, Col. Lou Lieb, at a retirement dinner in San Antonio, Texas. I was an airman basic assigned to Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. He told me that he was very proud to see that I had become an Air Force commander. I took the opportunity to thank him personally for his efforts in my development. From Col. Lieb to my most recently retired commander, Col. Burke, I can honestly say that I had amazing commanders throughout my career. All have taken the time to develop me as their replacement. No matter our rank or specialty, it is critically important to continue to develop our Airmen to one day be our commanders.