You decide: Comfort zone or developmental special duty?

Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas -- Do you have a Service-Before-Self mentality? Do you take advantage of leadership opportunities? If you were nominated for a Developmental Special Duty (DSD), how would you react if it was in a role you were completely uncomfortable with? Would you volunteer for a deployment today if the opportunity presented itself?

Back in 2008, my squadron superintendent was kind enough to ask me what I thought about going on a deployment. At the time of the inquiry, I was taking two classes toward my master's degree in human resource management and I had some personal issues I was trying to work through so I responded, "Not at this time." Afterwards, we had a very productive conversation about leadership, my role in the organization, and the potential barriers I thought would serve as distractions. He helped me work through my concerns and convinced me that I was the right person, at the right time, with the right skills to go on the deployment. So I did.

While at the deployed location, I was the section chief for the aircraft structural maintenance back shop and was responsible for leading 35 Airmen. Collectively, we completed more than 5,000 structural repairs supporting more than 100 coalition aircraft. We had a phenomenal 93 percent quality assurance pass rate and an incredible 99 percent maintenance mission effectiveness rate. Ultimately, we facilitated more than 6,300 combat missions and the offloading of 150 million pounds of fuel in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.

As a result of our success, I was also able to take care of some great maintainers: some great Airmen. I wrote 11 Air Force Achievement Medals, a Commendation Medal, and members of my section constantly won Airman, NC, Team of the Month awards. Furthermore, on a weekly basis, a distinguished visitor, chief, or commander stopped by our back shop to coin or praise my Airmen for making such a positive impact on the mission. I still receive phone calls and emails from those great Airmen I had the honor and privilege of serving with.

My initial response when my squadron superintendent asked if I wanted to go on a deployment was not consistent with having a "Service-Before-Self" mentality. Nobody likes change and I was not the exception. To this day however, that deployment has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and I will never forget what we accomplished together as a team. When you really sit back and think about professional development, being selected for a deployment is similar to being nominated for a Developmental Special Duty. It forces you out of your comfort zone and facilitates growth: mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. Speaking of developmental assignments, I had the honor of being a Technical Training Instructor and an Additional-Duty First Sergeant.

As a TTI, I was given an opportunity to lead in my career field. After being in the aircraft structural maintenance career field for more than 16 years, I believed in my heart that I could give back and make a difference in some small way by teaching others a craft I cared so passionately about. It was the right decision and turned out to be a great experience. The assignment broadened my perspective of aircraft structural maintenance repair techniques. I learned more about instructional system development, writing objectives and tests, counseling approaches, time and resource management, and communication (writing and speaking) while leading and developing Airmen.

As an Additional-Duty First Sergeant, I interacted with professional military education commandants, career assistance advisors, Family Advocacy representatives, Security Forces, Area Defense Counsel representatives, Military & Family Readiness Center representatives, Office of Special Investigation affiliates, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program managers. The exposure and experience was priceless. It provided me with yet another opportunity to learn more about the mission and services of other key agencies. The knowledge I gained from that experience placed me in a position to better assist, refer and take care of Airmen so they can focus on the mission. So here's my leadership perspective and foot stomp when it comes to DSD assignments:

DSD's provide unique opportunities for high-caliber Airmen to lead! Therefore, if you get nominated for a DSD, look at it as a leadership opportunity. It will be good for your personal and professional development, regardless of rank. Be motivated about the task of making a difference in your career field, your squadron, your wing and ultimately the Air Force. One day, you will be the right person, at the right time, with the right skills to develop and lead Airmen. Think "Service-Before-Self" and take advantage of that opportunity.

Initially, you might feel somewhat apprehensive about what the outcome will be or even how effective you may be in your new role. That's OK, in fact, perfectly normal since change inevitably forces people out of their comfort zones. However, don't lose sight of the fact that we have formal and on-the-job training programs to bridge any gaps to ensure we set Airmen up for success. Make no mistake about it though, you will be in a prestigious position to mold, shape, and grow future Airmen. Consider it an honor, a privilege and a sign that your leadership sees the potential in you to do more than you ever thought you could.

Staying in your comfort zone is easy and promotes stagnation. Conversely, challenging yourself to make a difference takes real courage, sacrifice, and a "Service-Before-Self" mentality. If you are nominated for a DSD, don't be afraid to pull yourself out of that comfort zone and display some Airmanship, some leadership. Rest assured it will be one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences in your career and possibly your life. One never knows what leadership opportunities the future may hold. However, the best way to predict the future is to help shape and create it. Think about being a great leader! Think Service-Before-Self!