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Passing on what I’ve learned

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Fred Heim
  • 451st Expeditionary Mission Support Group
As I approach the end of my final deployment, and the culmination of 30 years of active duty service in the greatest Air Force that has ever existed, I find myself simultaneously saddened and excited. I am saddened that I will not be coming back out to be a part of the ongoing history that you all are living while serving your country and the world, making it a better place for all of humanity. I am excited as I look to the future and what I will be doing after the final chapter of my Air Force career has been written. This article is an opportunity for me to pass on a few things that I have learned along the way.

For the Airmen who are rotating out, first, a sincere heartfelt thank you for all you have done to contribute to this wing's many mission successes. It is important to remember, however, that not everyone is rotating out. Many of our fellow Airmen and other service members will be here long after we are gone. Save your real celebrating for when you are reunited with your family and friends back home. Those staying behind are happy for you to be going because it means that they are getting closer. To flaunt your departure can also cause them to feel resentment and be slightly distracted by focusing on how much time they have left before they return to their family and friends.

Second, pass on as much information about what you have done, learned, and experienced as you can to your replacement. Remember how much of a fog you were in when your feet hit the ground. Though your replacement may seem attentive to what you are telling them, there is a good chance they will not remember everything the day after you leave and will have to "re-experience" all the things you went through to get to where you are. Having good notes with points of contact will start them off right and enable this wing to continue down the path of mission success.

For the Airmen who have just arrived, first, welcome to Kandahar and the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing. This will probably be one of your most, if not "the" most, challenging deployments of your career. The living and working conditions are not the most ideal, but they could be a whole lot worse. There are thousands of our comrades throughout Afghanistan that are literarily sleeping on the ground, or in their tactical vehicles, without showers or clean laundry, and using WAG bags (if don't know what that is ask someone) that would gladly trade places with you for life on KAF. Appreciate what you have, make the best of it, and strive to make it better for the next rotation.

Second, don't criticize the actions of the last rotation. You don't have all the data, dynamics, and particular reasoning behind the decisions that were made on any significant issue. There are a lot of intelligent leaders here, and the decisions they have made were based on all available information, and were the best courses of action at that moment in time. This is a fast paced, ever changing environment that involves all services and over 40 coalition partners. It is difficult at best to coordinate the actions of everyone into a synchronized level of effort.

Learn the current processes and procedures that are in place and if you have ideas for improvement, develop a course of action that will take whatever the task or process is to the next level. Knowing where you are (operationally) gives you a reference point to establish where you need to go. Focusing on why things were done the way they were, and unfounded criticism of the last rotation, are a waste of time and energy that needs to be channeled into the continuous process of making improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, and overall mission sustainability.

You have all volunteered to selflessly serve your country. There are few, if any, endeavors that you will take on in your life that will have more meaning or value than service to your country. If you have not realized it up to this point in your career, whether officer or enlisted, of any rank, then take a minute to think about the level of responsibility that has been bestowed upon you, and that you have willingly accepted.

You are a part of the less than one percent of the American population that provides the freedoms that all Americans and the people of many other nations enjoy every day. Let the thought of that "level" of responsibility be your daily reminder that you must always be at your best at whatever you are tasked with or action you're given. No matter how significant or insignificant you may think the task might be, if you have been given the task, complete it as expeditiously and as safely as possible, and then move on to the next one.

I'm always awed by the miracles that our Airmen make happen every day under extreme conditions and long hours. I will miss that the most. It has been a true honor and pleasure serving with you. Thank you all for your courage and your endless sacrifices to this wing, our Air Force, and our nation. If not for the continuous professionalism and dedication of each and every one of you, the hard fought freedoms that our predecessors have secured, and that we protect, would be short lived.