Building leadership

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- My first weekend in Wichita Falls, Texas I joined a volunteer organization to help with a Saturday project. The experience taught me a great deal about leadership, service, and the Air Force.

When I arrived to the site early Saturday morning, I introduced myself to a gentlemen standing to the left of the house. I explained I was taking the aircraft maintenance officer course at Sheppard. The man was Staff Sgt. Robert Kusina, a former maintainer currently teaching avionics at the base.

During the car ride, he told me about his family and how much he enjoyed volunteering. I listened for a while and asked what he thought made a good leader. As a new officer, the nuances of leadership was something I wanted to understand. After a moment, he said respecting the expertise of your airmen, being encouraging, and working hard were important to leadership.  I thought about the concepts as we drove though the quiet community.

When we arrived, the site leader said we needed to make the frame for the house; more specifically, we need to make "T's" out of wood. "T's" are two pieces of wood held with three smaller wooden boards in the middle. The structure is held together by nails. The job is generally done with two people. One person holds the wood in place and the other person nails the pieces together.

Since, I had a distinct fear of injuring myself or someone else with the nail gun, I held the wood in place while Kusina nailed them together. That is how it went for a while, the steady pace of holding and nailing with intermittent conversation. We discussed career goals and I continued to ask for insight about the Air Force. He answered without arrogance or condescension.

While working, we ran out of the middle boards. Without much thought, the sergeant offered to teach me how to make more using a buzzsaw. I listened while he explained how to use the pencil to mark the cutting line and makie sure to cut all the way though. This process made me realize this mirrored the actual Air Force.  A new officer relying on the experience and intellect of his NCOs to accomplish the mission.

We began to nail "T's" to a different structure called tremors and longer pieces which brought the product together. This would eventually make up the walls for the house. After laying down sealant and a blue film, we hoisted the structure up. Then, with the help of other volunteers, we put down screws and tightened them. We continued this process of building and raising up the structures throughout the day.

Around three o'clock, we ended for the day. Due to the help of the volunteers, much of the frame was established and I had a clearer picture of leadership than before. I was satisfied. Yet, as we got in the car and began to pull away, I realized that I wouldn't know the family who would live there. I could never be sure if they were financially secure or in good health. However, I hoped, much like the military, we were making a small positive impact in an uncertain world.