Malmstrom's 24/7 Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Fortney
  • 341st Missile Wing commander
I went to the missile field last week and watched SSgt Petzold and his team struggle for hours in the sun to manually drill out (yes, with a hand drill) a bunch of heavily corroded debris bin bolts. If unfamiliar with a missile site, this is a hard, tough job in a hard to reach place, with equipment seemingly ill suited for the job. The whole corroded bolt issue was an unexpected obstacle that held them back from starting the job they went out to J02 to do, fixing another major, heavy problem (a multiplying linkage replacement) to prep the site for a top priority mission the next day. In the end, they got both jobs done - albeit with a few busted knuckles and a lot of grunting. And if you're wondering, the top priority task went off the next day without a hitch. In talking to one of the young team members on-site, he told me why getting those corroded bolts broken and the multiplying linkage swapped out was so important. Assuming I was unaware of what was happening the next day on that site, the MMXS Airman told me that they had to get this job done, and they would. When I asked him why, he told me it was because the next day's top priority job depended on them. Petzold, Brink, Broderick, Marckese, Iera, Branthoover, and Beatty fully understood how important their job was at J02 that day and they busted their butts to get it done, and done right. Those guys "get it."

Earlier in the month, the Chief and I were out in the "W" walking the fence line on a hot afternoon talking to the SF defenders posted along the perimeter. This group of Airmen has been posted to this key piece of real estate for months, through the extreme cold of last winter through the mosquitos of summer, making sure no-one even thinks about coming near that fence line. When I asked a young defender, whose job it was to watch one area the size of a football field for hours at a time, if he'd seen anyone in his sector today, he stared over my shoulder into his AOR and said: "No Sir...not yet." What a great answer. This Airman, who arguably has the toughest post on base, peered over my shoulder to not break eye contact with his sector and undaunted by routine and the heat let me know he was still looking for the bad guys. I wish I had his name; this Airman "gets it" too. 

Another day recently, I was speaking to some Airmen in the MPF about their undermanning situation and the fact that all of their NCOs were deployed (leaving Airmen in charge). Without batting an eye, one Airman told me "it's a lot of work, but the Airmen in the shop have each other's backs and Sir, were getting it done." And in talking to the leadership in that building and those around our base that benefit from their get 'er done attitude, I know the Airmen in the MPF are rising to a big challenge. These MPF Airmen "get it" too. 

I could literally tell another hundred stories of tough, mission focused Airmen at this wing, doing a tough job, with sometimes little sleep, in some tough conditions. Like the LRS team that somehow manages to keep our SF up-armored Hummers on the ready line despite a never ending flow of busted engines and transmissions. Or the Mighty Medics who during a HHQ emergency response test designed to break their will and overwhelm them with casualties, who said to the exercise coordinators, "Is that all you got?" Or the young missile crew commander that proudly told me during his EWO cert how he and his crew were going to be the most proficient missile crew in their unit. Or the helo squadron who recorded two dangerous saves in rugged terrain and then came home and led the total re-vamp of your Airman's attic to help our young families make ends meet. Yes, I could go on (and on) about the day-to-day heroics of our wing's Airmen. 

As I said, these servant-warriors "get it." But what is it that they get? What sets them apart? 

For one thing, a trait these Airmen all possess is a sense of pride in their organizations and an understanding of just how important their duties are to the mission of our wing and our Nation. While they may not come to work every day thinking about nuclear deterrence and our base's key role in maintaining stability in a turbulent world, they know what they do is important, to their comrades and to the unit. They know people count on them to do their important jobs right. And they are part of a team that has pride in doing an extremely tough job in an often extreme environment to equally extreme standards. 

Another trait these Airmen all have in common is the understanding that they are part of something big; much bigger than any one of us. To these northern tier warriors, it's not about doing a 9 to 5 job, it's about being part of something important - to their colleagues, to the unit, to the Air Force, and ultimately to the nation. They get it - and it shows. These Airmen, and thousands more like them at the 341st, embrace what it means to be an Airman, serving their country with pride and embracing our Air Force Core Values of Integrity, Service, and Excellence. These Airmen live their Core Values 24/7, and I'm proud of each and every one our 24/7 Airmen. 

But if 98 percent of our Malmstrom Airmen truly "get it," what of the other two percent? They're here too unfortunately. And what does this two percent look like? Well, this two percent is really the opposite of what I just described above. The two percent are what I call 9 to 5 Airmen. Why 9 to 5? Simply stated, this minority appears to shed their Core Values when they take off their ABUs at night - they're 9 to 5 Airmen. They just get by on duty and then when they go home at night they get involved in things that bring discredit on themselves, their families, and our base and Air Force. In this short article I won't be detailing what all these 9 to 5ers are involved in, but suffice it to say, as proud as I am in our 24/7 Airmen, I'm equally disappointed in this minority. 

As Chief Kent and I have shared with our 24/7 Airmen the types of things these 9 to 5ers are involved in, we've found our great Airmen to be disappointed too. No, not disappointed, more like angry. They're angry that a few of their comrades who share their uniform don't live up to its calling. They're angry that the same uniform they take pride in wearing and the flag they serve under might be just cloth to some. 

As we begin our final month of the AFSPC Year of Leadership, the Chief and I and your unit leadership will be talking to you more about what it means to be a 24/7 Airman. We'll be reinforcing what so many of you already know and live - that you truly are a part of something big, bigger than yourselves. We'll be talking about how important each and every duty on this base is to the defense of our country, and how important you are. We'll be talking about how proud we are of the northern tier warriors of Malmstrom, and what makes us so proud. And we'll be talking in more detail about that two percent, those 9 to 5ers -- how they affect our mission and what we all can do about it...stay tuned. 

Again, the Chief and I couldn't be prouder of what you, our 24/7 Airmen, do for our base, our mission, our Air Force, and our nation. And we look forward to sharing this with you in the weeks to come. Thanks for all you do.