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Sharing IV: A chance to learn from each other

  • Published
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – In this month’s AFMC Connect story on “Sharing,” Col. Patrick Miller, the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, introduced a series of questions answered by wing leaders to facilitate small-group conversations across Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as a way to better connect with each other.

This week, we finish out the questions with other Air Force Materiel Command leaders:

  1. What is the book (or books) you have given most as a gift, and why? Alternatively, what are a few books that have greatly influenced your life?

Chief Master Sgt. James “Bill” Fitch, Air Force Research Laboratory senior enlisted leader –

“9 Things Successful People Do Differently” by Heidi Grant Halvorson is the book I gave to my Airman Leadership School classes. Halvorson discusses getting very specific about goal setting and gives some examples. She also discusses the need to have grit when the going gets tough.

The No. 1 book that influenced my life, besides the Bible, is probably “Wooden on Leadership” by John Wooden, former UCLA men’s basketball coach. One of my favorite parts Wooden outlines is to make yourself promises. One was: Promise to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit trouble to press on you.

Barb Cerny, 88th Communications Group deputy director –

There is no good way to answer this one except tongue-in-cheek. I have written eight novels. I give them away the most as I want the many boxes I have of them out of my basement. You want one? 

“The Stand” by Stephen King is the ultimate good vs. evil story. It really makes you think about the human condition, and you hope you’ll dream of Mother Abagail and not Randall Flagg.

Amir Mott, 88th Civil Engineer Group deputy director –

The Bible — whether one sees it as a religious, spiritual or great literary work, it provides timeless wisdom for just about every area of life. From good times to challenging times, it records how integrity always prevails, even when one must admit their own shortcomings or failures. There are many lessons of leadership and followership. Most of all, it is a story of hope and overcoming the odds, which we all face at least once, though I’d dare to say multiple times in life.

  1. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? 

    Fitch –

I carve out quiet time and space for an hour or two. I sit with a blank sheet of paper and I write down everything that is causing me stress and what those are, and I determine what I can control and prioritize them in terms of immediacy.

Cerny –

I sew, pull weeds or do do-it-yourself projects around the house. These help, because at the end, I can see what I have accomplished, which is always a “feel good” story.

Mott –

My outlet when feeling overwhelmed or unfocused is hitting the gym, usually with either a good audiobook or good music. There are so many lessons and reminders I’ve encountered there. Once my heart rate gets going and I get determined to push through another fatigued repetition, I’m reminded I can get through anything by not giving up. That’s the point where real work is occurring and growth occurs.

Therefore, when life is easy and we are in our comfort zones too long, that’s the time when we are most vulnerable and subject to compromise and decline. Sure, it’s good to take a rest, as it prepares us for the next battle of growth. Keep pushing and see challenges for what they are: opportunities to grow.

  1. We often talk about taking risk. What is the most important risk you took and why? 

Fitch –

Becoming a leader was the most important risk I took — becoming a leader is scary. As a leader, you are vulnerable to criticism and even hate. I have failed at it, learned from it, persevered and continued on… always trying to be better. People need sincere, caring leadership. It might be scary to do it, but if not you, then who?  

Cerny –

Joining Army ROTC in 1979. Being a woman at that time in a military still feeling the effects of the Vietnam War felt like jumping into an unknown abyss — but it was the best decision I ever made. ROTC ended up paying for three years of my undergraduate degree, my master’s degree and sending me to exotic places. I never thought I would stay after my initial commitment, but I retired after 22 years of service — eight years on active duty, 14 years reserve and one deployment.

Mott –

Each time I applied for a position of higher responsibility, there was risk involved. Both fear and excitement pulsed through my mind as I wondered if I’d prepared enough in the previous assignment. Then I’d remind myself that I was fully up for the challenge to grow and serve those I would lead in my new role.

Many times, the perceived risk is self-absorption when inner focused (i.e., do “I” have what it takes?). Each time when I focused instead on how to reach out and serve others, the fear would subside and the task at hand became clearer. The most important risk is always to reach higher to serve others, and is the most rewarding as well.

  1. Building on risk, how has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure?”

Fitch –

I failed at college right after high school. I was not prepared for independent discipline. As a result, I suffered embarrassment and depression. When I moved on, I knew that I didn’t want to fail again — I knew I needed discipline.

I asked the Air Force to give that to me. It gave me that and more. My Air Force life has been an absolute blessing. If I ever sense a fear of failure in my mind, this fire ignites inside of me and drives me — still to this day. 

Cerny –

I have two favorite failures:

1) I was doing it all myself and had to break my ankle on an obstacle course to learn how to delegate. A very real and painful lesson.

2) I trusted my noncommissioned officers to prepare for an inspection and we failed it. After being publicly dressed down by the battalion commander (a colonel, I was a first lieutenant), I learned the hard lesson of “trust but verify.” This was maybe more painful than breaking the ankle.

  1. What is an unusual habit or absurd thing you love?

Fitch –

I love babies and animals — if I see them, I immediately start talking gibberish to them and will start rolling around on the floor. Even if it’s someone I just met, like going to dinner at your boss’s house, and then within minutes being on the floor with their dog before shaking hands or even taking off my coat – my wife really loves it.

Cerny –

I do Czech folk dancing.

Mott –

I collect musical instruments and have tried a few. A drum set (I started in high school and still play), piano, alto saxophone and guitars (electric, bass and acoustic). One day, I’m determined to buy an upright bass. Unfortunately, I bounce around too much to learn any of them well, except the drums.

I’m building up to become a grandmaster musician after I retire, where I’ll travel the world and astound my fans. OK, that is the absurd part of the answer to this question. Regardless, I love fantasizing about the idea.

  1. If you could have a gigantic billboard with your favorite quote or leadership philosophy, what would it say and why? Are there any other quotes you think of often or live your life by?

Fitch –

“Work hard, be nice and don’t talk poorly of others. Small minds discuss other people, good minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas.” – Denzel Washington.

Cerny –

I once saw a bumper sticker in the 70s that said, “He who has the most toys wins.” I took that sticker and changed it slightly to make my own life philosophy: “She who has done the most wins.” It has driven my sense of adventure since high school. It is all about the experience, not the stuff you collect along the way.

Mott –

“To be revolutionary, you need will (power) and the character to do it” by Master Shi Heng Yi. When one is lacking willpower or character, chartered goals are less than what they could be. In the same way, great leaders need possession of both to sustain direction and lasting momentum.

  1. What advice would you give to a smart, driven Airman — uniformed or non-uniformed — starting their Air Force journey? What advice should they ignore?

Fitch –

Strive to be great. In 30 years, one of you will become the next secretary of the Air Force, chief of staff of the Air Force or chief master sergeant of the Air Force — it’s going to happen to someone. Why not you?

Adversity will come in many forms. You need to expect that advancement, relationships, health or finances won’t eventually go the way you envisioned. How are you going to deal with setbacks? You have to recover and then thrive again.

Cerny –

Never give up. You are smarter (and probably better looking) than the person next to you, and if they can do it, so can you. You can push yourself further and harder than you ever thought you could. You are worth it — go for it!

If you get off active duty, don’t throw that away. Go into the Reserve or National Guard and stay for the 20. When you hit 60, the retirement paycheck will be well worth the effort.

Ignore anything that includes “this is the way we have always done it.”

Mott –

The best advice given me by a Senior Executive Service leader when I was new employee was to not seek promotion, but to do the best job I can do for the Air Force. From there, promotion has a way of following, even when unsolicited.

Advice to ignore was, “I get paid for eight hours a day, so whether easy or hard, just tell me what you want done. It doesn’t matter to me.” This faulty advice, also given to me as a new employee, shows indifference and lacks initiative. Our Air Force and country deserve better.

This concludes February’s AFMC Connect “Sharing” series. To read all of this month’s responses and the original story, visit