Year of Leadership: Understanding basic military relationships critical to career success

  • Published
  • By Maj Trevor Whitehill
  • 341st Comptroller and Contracting Squadron commander
Understanding basic military organizational relationships isn't something that should only be thought of and discussed during the completion of Professional Military Education. In fact, the by-products of these relationships occur around us everyday. I have always found it fascinating to consider the roles and responsibilities distinguished visitors bring in the context of their official capacity while at Malmstrom AFB. It is critical that we understand what these individuals bring to the fight in order put their visit into the proper context, and in turn, have a general understanding of how it relates to our own duties. In addition, understanding the relationship of these distinguished visitors is important because it defines how we interact and engage with them and their parent organization. For example, what relationship does U.S. Strategic Command have with the 20th Air Force and the 341st Missile Wing? I know you missileers are intimately familiar!

I vividly remember earlier in my career when I was stationed at the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., an Air Combat Command base, during OPERATION ALLIED FORCE. We deployed B-1B Lancers to Europe in support of the conflict in the Balkans. After a period of time and as the operation continued, we were visited by United States Air Forces in Europe Commander Gen. John Jumper. I was given the opportunity to meet him and had the picture taken, etc. However after some reflection, I have to admit that I truly didn't understand the relationship General Jumper and USAFE had with Ellsworth and ACC. I did know that we successfully deployed B-1Bs to Europe and remember how proud I felt hearing accounts of our combat sorties. Perhaps if I had read the right articles or asked my supervisor questions, my brief exchange with the General could have resulted in appropriate dialogue and ultimately better support to my deployed teammates.

During 2008, we at Malmstrom were called to the 3-Bay Hangar by two Air Force four-star generals. On different occasions, we hosted the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz and Commander, U.S. Strategic Command Gen. Kevin Chilton. We knew why there were here but I found it fascinating and relevant to consider their roles and responsibilities right at that particular moment during their respective calls. In front of us, we had two general officers with the same number of stars however with vastly different messages. When General Chilton spoke, he referred to capabilities. When he talked about the Air Force he didn't say "we," but instead used deliberate statements like, "the Air Force must provide" and "the Air Force must develop." Why do you suppose he chose his words in this manner?

When General Schwartz addressed Team Malmstrom, he spoke of Air Force priorities. Additionally he answered questions concerning the AEF construct, stressed career fields and retention bonuses. Did you consider why these kinds of questions are more appropriate for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force? They are both Air Force generals so what's the difference? From my comptroller profession standpoint, I have found that understanding relationships is critical because it often answers who pays and for what! 

I have intentionally not answered many of the questions posed in this article partially because I wanted to spark some curiosity and maybe a little discussion. Next time we have a distinguished visitor on base, think to yourself, "what does this individual bring to the fight?" We must continuously strive to understand basic military relationships. Why? Well we have this organization called Global Strike Command that is standing up, which most of us at Malmstrom will become very familiar with. Your ability to understand relationships will be critical to its success and will enhance mission accomplishment. Best wishes to you in 2009 as you pursue your professional development, whether it is formally, or just good old-fashioned critical thinking.