SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – “The Alchemist,” a novel written by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, tells the story of a young shepherd boy who, by a prophetic dream, believes that he is to one day discover a treasure at the Egyptian pyramids.
During the story, a king introduces the concept of people having a “personal legend,” or their purpose in life and what they are intended to do.
“Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is,” the king said, later adding that once a person finds their purpose, “all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, who visited Sheppard Air Force Base Jan. 25-26 to be immersed in the diverse training operations at the 82nd Training Wing and 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, said he agrees with Coelho’s philosophy. He said when he has the opportunity to talk with young Airmen, he’ll often take the opportunity to ask them what they want out of their Air Force career.
“The sooner they can figure that out, the easier it is for me, their supervisor, their mentors to put them on the right path much earlier. Most of us decide late in our lives and careers that, ‘Okay, I’ve finally decided what I want to do when I grow up,” he said. “So, think through and be deliberate about your dreams is what I would tell them.”
The CMSAF also said he encourages young Airmen to dream big in their careers, whether than means becoming the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, an astronaut, the president of the United States or the next tech genius.
Although he reached the pinnacle of the enlisted rank, Wright intimated that when he and others entered the Air Force years ago, they didn’t have clear goals or dreams. That why it’s important to him to embolden Airmen to find their passion and pursue it.
Helping them achieve those goals is what leadership is all about, he said. When many Airmen enter the Air Force, they are 18 or 19 years old. Wright said they need leadership to guide them through some shapeable years of their lives.
In basic training, guidance is built in because Airmen are told what to do and when to do it. Those restraints are loosened some once arriving at technical training. That makes the military training leader corps is extremely important to helping Airmen succeed.
“You need those military training leaders to be available for mentorship, for guidance, to help continue to mold them, to help them with the challenges that they’ll have still working their way through adolescence, trying to figure out how to be an Airman, trying to figure out how to learn their tech school, and trying to figure out how to date and all those things that come with being a young person,” he said. “Having some leadership available is pretty critical.”
The CMSAF has seen Sheppard at work throughout the Air Force as he travels from base to base seeing crew chiefs launch aircraft, communications Airmen set up telephone systems and linemen climbing utility poles. He said when he sees those specialties Sheppard is delivering to the field, he sees the highest quality Airmen.
One impressionable moment for Wright was seeing the 82nd TRW’s motto: “Combat Capability Starts Here.” He sees that axiom come to fruition in the operational Air Force.
That challenge, he said, is the leadership aspect for Airmen when they reach their first duty assignment and, perhaps, throughout their careers. Well-trained Airmen can be produced at Sheppard and other training bases, but they will still need a good supervisor to guide them.
“I think when you have good supervision and you have someone who helps you, guides you and mentors you … those Airmen have a much better chance of being successful,” he said.
When it comes to restoring readiness — a priority for Air Force leadership — that also means an increase in manning, which is recognized as one of the largest readiness issues that hinders the service from doing some of the required tasks. Sheppard, Wright said, plays a big role in process.
“This base is critically important to making sure that our Airmen get that first level of training that they need in their Air Force specialties so they can go out into the operational Air Force and contribute and continue to learn and grow in the jobs that we train them in,” he said.
Retaining Airmen is also a concern Air Force leadership is working to hopefully curb as some Airmen are choosing to get out of the service rather than continue. Wright said it’s not necessarily a work or job issue, rather it’s one that revolves around culture, climate and how they feel in regards to how their units support them and their families.
Wright said most Airmen enjoy the training, working and deployments aspects of their service to the country.
“What they don’t enjoy is when we don’t hold up the end of our bargain as leaders,” he said. “So, we have to do a better job of not just here at Sheppard giving them the right training they need to go out into the field. We have to do a better job at corporately training leaders better so they have the skills and tools to take care of these Airmen once we train them here at Sheppard and get them out into the Air Force.”
In addition to seeing the training mission at Sheppard, Wright was also the keynote speaker at the 82nd TRS Annual Award Banquet Jan. 26.