40th HS/CC shares his recipe for success

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. William Thomas
  • 40th Helicopter Squadron commander
With more than 125,000 accident-free hours of helicopter operations, many have asked, "how do you do it?" 

The 40th Helicopter Squadron has been proudly and faithfully serving the members of Team Malmstrom for more than 40 years. The 40th HS is one of only four active-duty helicopter units in Air Force Space Command and the most diverse of its kind in 20th Air Force. I have the honor and privilege of leading the command's finest helicopter pilots, flight engineers and operations support personnel while executing the most dynamic and complex Air Force UH-1N helicopter operations support missions. The 40th HS conducts security force response operations, convoy operations, delivery of essential maintenance parts or equipment, search and rescue, medical evacuation and personnel transport. The helicopters and crews provide a valuable tool to increase security and situational awareness in remote areas and across widespread areas of operations within the 341st Space Wing's 23,500 square-mile missile complex. 

From start to finish, successful sortie execution is completely a team effort, requiring the utmost of professionalism and self-discipline from the aircrew, life support personnel, aviation resource and information managers, quality assurance evaluators and line mechanics. During my brief tenure as the commander of the 40th HS, I have become thoroughly convinced that if you take care of the people, the mission will tend to take care of itself. When given the appropriate organizational environment, culture and resources, today's Airmen can do just about anything. During the quest to find a "better place to be," much has been written about not only doing things right but about doing the right things and having the wisdom to recognize the difference. Our organization is replete with outstanding leaders, followers, managers, mentors, warriors and thinkers. While I certainly do not have the corner on the market when it comes to the "recipe for success," I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on this subject and I've arrived at several different conclusions: 

1. You must have the professional courage to do what is right as opposed to what is popular. Our first core value of integrity is simply non-negotiable. We are in the business of saving lives and protecting valuable resources, our leadership must be willing to adopt the hard "right" over the easy "wrong." If we fail in this regard, the consequences are completely unacceptable. 

2. There is nothing more frustrating than a leader who needs to have all of the facts before taking action. Our professional lives are full of uncertainty and indecisive leadership only exacerbates this uncertainty. An effective leader must be willing to take measured and calculated risks and to be decisive. Anything less paralyzes a unit and leads to mission stagnation. 

3. Technical competence in your respective job specialty is essential. Study and train like you are going to fight; you may have to one day. You should always strive to be the best you can be and take pride in ownership for a job well done - be willing to go the extra mile because it is the right thing to do. While positive feedback and money can motivate some towards a common goal, nothing can replace the respect of your peers, job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. 

4. Set the example in your personal and professional conduct. Failure to do so can often paralyze leadership's credibility and create a significant barrier to successful mission accomplishment. Physical, emotional and spiritual readiness often breeds a positive attitude - the antidote for failure. 

5. Always bring a healthy dose of humility to the table - this trait should be on everyone's dietary plan. Everyone is replaceable. Your in-box will always be full and you should never take yourself or your circumstances too seriously. The last part is often easier said than done, since many of us have very real and serious personal and professional circumstances that we must deal with on a daily basis. You simply need to put this into context and realize that everything is relative - it could be worse. 

6. Sound communication and relationships are the absolute bedrock for mission success. Listening, speaking and writing effectiveness are a huge component of human interaction and an absolutely critical component to success. 

While effective leadership and mission success cannot be captured in a jar, I have found the aforementioned guidelines to be very helpful in keeping me in the lanes during the elusive quest to find "a better place to be." While the true measure of anyone's character is how you handle the bad stuff and the good stuff, these principles will give the leader a solid foundation on which to build and assist him or her in handling the myriad of different circumstances that will be thrown at them during the course of an Air Force career in their quest to make a difference.