TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The freezing temperatures continued to drop on a cold January afternoon at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, as I stood with my fellow cadets at Officer Training School (OTS). As a former enlisted member selected through the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program to become an officer, I was honored to be there; however, in that moment, I was angry and having cynical thoughts towards the cadet chosen to lead our student squadron through the snow to dinner.
Our leader had made the decision that since not every cadet had gloves, then no one would wear hats, jackets or gloves during the march. You see, at OTS every leadership opportunity is evaluated and graded, to include marching to and from meals. My fellow cadets and I struggled to maintain military bearing and discipline in freezing temperatures, just so this cadet could achieve the grade he wanted from marching us to dinner.
He was the type of guy that seemed to belong at OTS. He maintained a rigid physical fitness routine, he was cocky and he had all the answers. Turns out he had been a master sergeant in the enlisted ranks and it seemed he thought that OTS was basically technical school with some yelling thrown in.
What followed was this poor former master sergeant would be humbled for the entire squadron to see.
Another cadet leader, fresh from college and with no military experience, decided to instruct his group to retrieve their cold weather gear, which made them late to dinner. When advised by fellow cadets that he could potentially fail the leadership exercise because of his choice, he responded, “I would rather fail this leadership exercise than get anyone sick.”
In the end he took a little hit with his grade, but ultimately passed the exercise. The former master sergeant failed and was yelled at by the training staff in front of all of us about possibly getting his entire squadron sick. Just so he could pass an exercise.
This small experience at OTS taught me a lot about leadership and I’ve often thought back to it in the months since graduation.
The three biggest lessons I learned from those two cadets are: One, leaders come in all shapes and sizes with varying levels of experience; two, true leaders use common sense even if it goes against the grain; and three, serving others before yourself doesn’t change, even if the rank on your uniform does.
As a new lieutenant I’m still learning the ropes. While I have context of the Air Force way of life from my enlisted days, I must remember to keep my eyes open for the fresh lessons before me.