WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Col. Thomas Sherman assumed his position as commander of the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base June 19. Sherman previously served as commander of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Detachment 1 at Headquarters, Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado.
His office décor at Wright-Patterson includes an Afghan rug and the famous photo of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower addressing American paratroopers prior to their D-Day operation. The base’s new commander offers more insights about himself and his expectations:
What most excites you about coming to Wright-Patterson AFB?
Sherman: There are two major components that have increased my excitement:
No. 1, it’s always exciting for us to meet the people who are carrying the burden and doing the work. The size and the scope of the wing and the responsibility it has to maintain a base of this size and importance is absolutely phenomenal. I’m impressed by the level of responsibility and diversity. No. 2, it is one thing to read about the impact Wright-Patterson has on our Air Force, but it another thing to see it with your own eyes. How our Air Force relies on what is taking place here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is awe-inspiring.
What are your initial priorities and goals as the new commander of the 88 ABW? How will the communities that surround the base factor in those?
Sherman: It’s going to be important for me to do a lot of listening, learning and conversing so I can develop an understanding of what makes Wright-Patterson unique and how the 88 ABW plugs into that. I’m going to look at four initial focus areas:
■ Culture of the 88 ABW and the relationships we have inside and outside the base
■ Status of our infrastructure on a wide level – manpower, equipment and more – to assess what needs to be done to sustain the base and conduct the mission
■ Readiness and what it means for the 88 ABW and Wright-Patterson AFB
■ Processes – what we do, why we do it, the history and story behind it
I’m hoping to learn what we are doing and need to continue to do because it’s the right thing; what we are doing right now that we need to maybe not do; and what are the things we are not doing but should be doing.
When you think about the communities that surround this base and the level of interaction, interoperability and in some cases, mutual aid and dependence, the base is the community.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Sherman: There are few things in this world that are more impactful, important and humbling than being responsible for the lives of other people. Being a commander and placing that mantle of responsibility on your shoulders is a huge commitment. I see the responsibility of command as the ability to lead, inspire and motivate on a human level as well as establishing and setting the culture of the organization. The concept of servant leadership really resonates with me. I’m also responsible for establishing vision, direction and clear commander’s intent. When you do that, you not only enable but you empower your subordinate leaders to lead their organizations to take care of the responsibilities that they have been entrusted. It is my job to support the subordinate leaders who are enacting the culture, vision and priorities we have established.
I’m inspired by the photo on my wall – how Gen. Eisenhower, after knowing he had done everything he could to prepare his troops, went out to spend time with them prior to their D-Day operations. That photo captures the essence of leadership.
A quote by Gen. Omar Bradley is very important to me: “Leadership is intangible, and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it.” In my mind, there is no next-generation fighter or combat weaponry, long-range bomber, enhanced technology and equipment that we can provide to our Airmen that is more powerful than the leadership each and every one of us carries in our heart.
Are there any special preparations you have made for this assignment?
Sherman: The last 23 years have been preparation for this assignment, from the first interaction I had as a 2nd lieutenant with mentors to my first squadron command to my group command to even, most recently, being a part of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center. It has really created an amazing set of building blocks that helped build a very unique repertoire of experiences.
A year from now, what would you like to say you accomplished in that time?
Sherman: As we consider and address the four areas we discussed earlier, I want to know if people are proud of and motivated by what they are doing. Also, I want us to have developed what we consider to be enduring enhancement programs for this installation.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your Air Force career?
Sherman: It is being a commander in combat and being responsible for Airmen who are involved with direct contact with the enemy, placing themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis to ensure the mission is secured – bearing that responsibility of sending them back out even when bad things can happen.
What do you like to keep on your desk? What’s a memento that means a lot to you?
Sherman: The first thing I put on my desk was the picture of my wife, Laurie. She is my world and the most important person in my life. I also like to display photos of family, friends and things we’ve done because they remind me of the joy and emotion of those moments.
I also have a very important knife, a Marine Corps Ka-Bar my grandfather used during World War II in the Pacific theater. He was a part of the island-hopping campaign and in a very, very special group that would land prior to our forces landing. It was his only weapon allowed. The seawater wore away the leather grip on it, so he fashioned a new one from a piece of a windscreen from a P-38 Lightning fighter. Flash forward a few years, when my father was drafted and went to Vietnam, he was with the 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, down on the Mekong River during the Tet Offensive. He carried that knife every day of the war. When I was deploying overseas for the first time, my dad handed the knife to me and I’ve carried it in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, throughout Africa. That knife has kept three generations of Sherman men safe fighting America’s wars.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
Sherman: We enjoy cooking and wine. We love to travel to Italy and explore new things. Music and theater are fun for us, too.
Bonus question: What has been the greatest surprise since your arrival at Wright-Patterson AFB?
Sherman: It was an incredibly pleasant surprise to see the community support we enjoy. The community and civic leaders who attended the change of command to share in that was a wonderful surprise. There was such a sense of sincerity about it.
Commander’s final comment: We are honored and humbled on the greatest of levels to be here. We are so encouraged to work with this amazing team. We are looking forward to what we are going to be able to accomplish as a team and a family together in the next few years. We will treasure every minute of it.
6 things you didn’t know
about Col. Tom Sherman
He and his wife met and dated almost 25 years ago.
He has two rescued Siamese male cats.
He once performed at Carnegie Hall.
He and his wife both like working on old cars together – they own a 1966 Mustang Fastback.
In high school he was a wild land firefighter in California.
Although the movie Top Gun gave him the need for speed, once he was at the Air Force Academy his heart got pulled in a different direction.