Who do you want to be?
By Col. Joel Safranek, 436th Airlift Wing commander
/ Published October 08, 2019
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
I don’t play golf, drink scotch or smoke cigars ... And that’s OK.
It may seem like a strange thing for a wing commander to write, but sometimes, people come to me for mentorship with a certain image in mind of what a senior Air Force leader looks like. They want to know what they “have” to do to have a successful career, under the assumption somebody who doesn’t fit the stereotype will fail to enter the inner circle.
In any organization, people can feel pressured to conform to a certain mold in order to be accepted by the group. In the Air Force, this is a reality for many, regardless of whether or not their perceptions are founded.
Personally, I have always ascribed to just doing my own thing and doing it well.
One of my defining attributes is my stoic expression. It is part of who I am: I get it from my mother. You’ll never catch either of us doing back handsprings or whooping and hollering at the peak of a somersault, beaming out of sheer exuberance. Cheerleading is not my thing, and I don’t do it well.
My advice is not to worry about what you are not doing but to worry about what you are doing. Are you an expert in your field? Are you punching above your weight? Do commanders turn to you when they need things done? Do Airmen seek you out when they have problems? Are you taking care of yourself, your family, your Airmen and the mission?
My philosophy does not come without critics. There will be many coworkers, friends and even family members who will press you about all the things you “have” to do. Some of those things may very well need to be done, but if you spend your life only doing the things you “have” to do, when will you ever do the things you “want” or “choose” to do?
In the end, I have found it best to stay true to myself ... Pretending to be someone you’re not is hard. So why force something that is not you?
The Air Force is a large organization and has a place for every type of person and personality. Diversity is the strength of the U.S. military, and we rely on it heavily to accomplish the mission.
Trust me: we need you more than you need to fit a certain mold.
So, the next time you see me – cigarless, drinking a diet cola and without a golf course in sight – know I am silently and stoically cheering you on, however you decide to be you.
As the holidays draw near, we may struggle with feeling out of place or not having a sense of belonging or acceptance. For those of you in need of a wingman, Dover Air Force Base offers several helping agencies.
The mental health clinic (302-677-2674), Military One Source (1-800-342-9647) and the Military and Family Life Counseling Program (302-898-4126) provide free counseling services to active-duty Airmen. For completely confidential counseling, regardless of religious beliefs, chaplains are available at (302) 677-3932. In addition, Airmen can seek help within their chain of command and from their fellow Airmen.