A personal reflection

  • Published
  • By Capt. Chase P. McFarland
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
It seems that throughout my life I have never been one to learn things the easy way, somehow taking the trial-by-fire route instead. So why would anything be different when I was given the task of leading the 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs team? My initial thought of an uneventful three-year assignment to the middle of Montana, working on my master's, could not have been farther from the truth. Luckily, a highly eventful three years and a multitude of diverse leaders have helped me grow exponentially as a PA officer, a CGO, a person, and a Nuclear Airman, providing me a breadth of knowledge and experience I could not have found anywhere else in the Air Force, World or from a degree.

When it comes to education, I have continuously told those I mentor to never stop learning and thinking critically, whether that is through a degree, learning a language or just looking up random research topics on the web. I emphasize that we only continue to grow if we continue to learn; otherwise, we will become stagnant and uninnovative. I chose the route of earning a master's, not because it was "required for promotion", but rather I saw it as the next step to strengthening my critical thinking skills. Many say that taking online classes is a waste of time and is so easy that you sign up for the class and you'll pass; I do not know what classes they were taking, but mine were nowhere near that easy. I will admit that the classes themselves were not that hard, since most of the assignments and test were written papers and expressing ones opinions; however, with this style of learning comes the old saying "you get what you put into it". This type of learning environment was challenging enough to really make me think critically and look at all facets of a topic/problem, which has definitely come in handy when trying to be a well-rounded leader. I highly recommend that everyone seek some form of higher education, not because it may help with promotion, but because it will build you into a better critical thinker. Be warned though, completing a degree during off duty hours is not an easy task. Coming to Malmstrom I was fresh off a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan (three months training, nine months in country) and one of my main goals upon returning was to finish my masters. I had figured I would have the free time to take a class or two every other month and get my degree by the time I pinned on captain, but nothing worthwhile comes easy, and my time here has definitely made me earn it.

There were many road bumps on my path to earning a degree. On top of getting my degree I worked public relations for a Calcium Chloride road issue, worked environmental assessments for the elimination of the 564th Missile Squadron launch facilities, led my office through a Combined Unit Inspection, organized PA operations for the 50th Anniversary of the Minuteman, ran PA operations for the 2013 Nuclear Weapons Accident Incident Exercises, combatted negative media coverage regarding a Nuclear Surety Inspection fail and a cheating scandal, participated in three Fourth of July parade events, saw the start and finishing of the 564 MS silo elimination process, organized coverage of multiple distinguished visitors to include the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Secretary of the Air Force, and much much more. At the time, I saw each of these truly as road bumps, things that got in my way of achieving my personal goals and doing my everyday job. It was not until I reflected on my few years here that I realized that these were not road bumps, but rather stepping stones that pushed my knowledge and experience further than a degree or temporary duty assignment could. These were great opportunities that I took advantage of to really lead my team through tough times, what a great way to truly test myself and grow as a leader. I may not have always been successful in my attempt to face a problem; however, I have been lucky enough to have leaders who care enough to guide me onto the right path, ensuring that I was successful in the end.

Being a PA member, we have the unique opportunity to have bosses and peers who are typically three or more ranks above us. This can be extremely daunting and being a lieutenant advising a colonel is no easy feat. We must prove ourselves fast and try to be as thorough in our research as possible. On the other side, I got to learn directly from leaders who had four times as much experience than I did and were able to pass lessons learned onto me so that I did not have to make the same mistakes they did. Being mentored and supervised by an O-6 was not the easiest and most enjoyable experience either. For many airmen who make a mistake they will typically be counseled by their supervisors and only if they did something really wrong may the wing commander or vice wing commander counsel them. For me, the vice was my supervisor, and I work with the wing commander on a daily basis. Therefore, whenever I made a mistake, the boss knew about it. I have mentioned multiple times that I have been extremely lucky, and when it comes to leaders, this statement is more than true. I have had the privilege to know and work for some great leaders here who took the time to tear me down and show me the wrong so that they could then build me up into a stronger and successful leader and person. I have come to realize that only those leaders who truly care about you will do both facets of this, for if they only tear down there is no growth and if there is only building up there is never the correction of the negative or wrongdoing.

In my three years at Malmstrom, I have learned that completing a master's and attending Professional Military Training courses are not the only way to acquire experience and knowledge; there is so much more out there you just have to open your eyes to see it. In addition, being a leader is not about being perfect and only achieving your own goals. A good leader will learn from their mistakes, keep moving forward, and help others around them in achieving their goals as well. Watching my Airmen and team grow and prosper has been one of the biggest highlights of my time here; it is amazing to lead a team that has been highly successful in the Public Affairs yearly communication awards, garnered their first Air Force level award and continued that streak for three years straight.

My journey in becoming a Nuclear Airman may not have been the easiest and most enjoyable of times, but I can without a doubt say that it was the most rewarding. I have the utmost respect for those who continue to do the nuclear mission, operational or support, and I will forever remember the hard work and dedication that these Nuclear Airmen embody. I could not have asked for a better team to grow and learn from and with.