I was reminded of the importance of doing your job as a leader during my command of an Air Force wing and major installation. As part of a base commander’s monthly schedule, you meet with base law enforcement, the judge advocate, and the Office of Special Investigations to get a sense of the base’s climate. Late in the summer, during one of those meetings, I was told we had a few enlisted personnel who might be using or selling drugs and that some of them lived in our dormitories. The team recommended, and I authorized, a unit health and welfare inspection on the upcoming Labor Day Monday holiday at 8:00 a.m.
So at 8:00 a.m. on a hot, sunny day, our inspectors woke every dormitory resident and told them to report to the dormitory parking lots immediately. The inspectors and narcotic dogs began the careful process of inspecting every room in accordance with legal guidelines.
As I walked through the parking lot with our Airmen, Soldiers, Marines, and Sailors, I expected to hear lots of grumbling about being awakened on a holiday and turned out onto a hot humid Florida morning. I was worried about our team’s perception of the inspection, so I walked through the parking lots explaining what was going on.
Though I did hear a bit of complaining, I did not expect the heated comments I got directly from one Airman. When I asked him how things were going in the dormitory and what he thought of the inspection, he told me it was “about ^$mn time” that base leadership was doing something to identify dormitory residents who were breaking the law. He said it was common knowledge in the dorms that a few folks were trafficking drugs and he asked why we had taken so long to do something about the problem. His reaction was not what I had expected, but he was right.
This Airman reminded me that as the commander I needed to execute a part of our mission that at the end of every day was my responsibility alone—taking care of the morale and welfare of the people on our base, in this case, our dorm residents. You see, I had failed to ensure they had a safe place to live. And what our dorm residents wanted was a safe place to live without criminals in their midst. They were not worried about missing a little sleep if it resulted in them getting a safe dormitory. I needed to understand and share their priority---and I had temporarily missed the boat.
As leaders, we have many responsibilities and authorities – some outlined in an organization’s procedures and some not. We have things we can do and things we must do. And what that hot Monday morning clarified for me was my unique responsibility to our team. I never forgot the lesson.