What I wish I knew as a junior officer

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Sarah Christ
  • 341st Mission Support Group deputy commander
I received my assignment notification last month, so this will probably be my final opportunity to write an article for the Global Guardian. It makes me reflect a bit, but I've been reflecting a lot on officership lately and what it means to me to serve in the greatest Air Force on Earth. It probably has a lot to do with recent events at Malmstrom, and maybe also with the unrest in Syria and the Ukraine, which reminds me that at any moment, our commander in chief could call us to duty in another remote corner of the world to knock some bad guy into the stone age; such an honor and privilege to serve.

Which brings me back to officership. I think I'm OK at it, although I know there are those I've met throughout my career who would disagree - some in a positive direction, some in a negative direction. So it goes. But I believe my true value is in equipping the next generation of Wingmen and warriors. In the hopes of doing just that, I'd like to share some things I wish someone had told me when I was a junior officer. I hope this will be useful to some of you.

First, good officers leave their ego at the door. I thought I was a pretty big deal coming out of Reserve Officer Training Corps. A distinguished graduate with a good GPA, I had won a spot in a competitive Air Force Institute of Technology program to stay in school and get my master's degree in environmental engineering. I thought I had a glorious career ahead of me fixing the Air Force's environmental issues. But less than two years into my first job, a "guaranteed" four-year controlled tour as an environmental engineer, I was hit with a non-voluntary assignment in a completely different career area. I still vividly recall the moment when I angrily picked up the phone and called the AFIT commandant's office to complain about how little Air Force Personnel Center thought about their school. A word of advice: Don't do that ever. The rebuke from the officer on the line, telling me to grow up and do my duty (followed by his phone call to my commander), still stings a bit. Talk about a learning moment. Bottom line is, even if you actually are a big deal (and I was not) the Air Force is bigger - be humble.

Next, good officers learn everything they can. Once I left my environmental job behind, I touched so many other areas, and I found that I had to learn them all in order to be effective and credible. Since then, I've fixed electrical problems at a hangar in the south of France, negotiated a real property transfer with the Italian government, managed a billion dollars-worth of construction projects in Iraq (yes, I said billion), helped build the Air Force's fiscal 2010 budget, rebuilt it after the Bush Administration became the Obama Administration, advocated to the House Armed Service Committee on behalf of the Air Force, and had the distinct pleasure to lead the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron and work for the 341st Mission Support Group here at Malmstrom. As the 341st MSG deputy commander, I've spent hours getting to know squadrons that I knew very little about a year ago. I've learned about communications systems, food service operations, civilian personnel, vehicle management, contracting, etc. Every job and every task helped prepare me for the next challenge. Sooner than you think, you'll lead Airmen, and they'll have vastly different backgrounds and areas of expertise. If you're lucky, you'll command flights and squadrons (and groups and wings and, well, you get the picture) that you know little about. Your ability to lead will depend on your knowledge and experience, so keep learning.

Final note: good officers are well-rounded, so balance your life. Your ability to lead through difficult times will depend on your mental, physical and spiritual health just as much as your knowledge and expertise, so find time for yourself.

Good luck. I'm looking forward to serving with you for many more good years.