African partnership advisory mission returns home with more than a promotion|
Commentary by Master Sgt. Sheffield Brodene
818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron air advisor
4/30/2012 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- I am an air mobility air advisor with the 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron, based at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. Our mission in the MSAS is to proactively engage with African partner nations to build lasting relationships, exchange ideas, and enhance U.S. and partner nation interoperability.
After a year of Air Advisor training and mission prep, I was finally ready to go on my first mission. My team and I were going to Uganda to exchange air traffic control ideas with the Ugandan Peoples' Defense Air Force. I was so excited to be going to Africa, it was on my 'bucket list.'
We arrived a day early which afforded us the opportunity to survey the local area. We saw "downtown", some of the local neighborhoods, and the wildlife education center. The following morning we met up with the other half of our team from U.S Air Forces in Europe and our Embassy liaison and headed into the UPDAF airbase.
Soon after arrival, we began our briefings to an audience of Ugandan air traffic controllers. The first morning started out at about 12 individuals and continued to grow as the week went on until we had a team of 32 Airmen in our classroom. The building was brand new, so all the AC units worked very well, which was a good thing, because late January in Uganda happens to be the middle of summer. We had the AC cranked as low as we could get it, but It wasn't until the second day that we realized the Ugandans were turning on the heat behind us because we were freezing them.
By the end of the third day we began to feel a certain camaraderie with our Ugandan hosts; so much so that we wanted to find a way to express our appreciation for our newly formed partnership. The answer came in an U.S. Air Force tradition.
The following day was the 1st of the month. It was also the day I was 'sewing on' master sergeant. What better way to show my gratitude to our new colleagues than to invite them to be a part of my promotion ceremony!
When I explained the tradition of 'tacking on stripes' and asked our Ugandan hosts to participate, I learned they have the same tradition in their Air Force. I was super stoked because they understood what it meant for me to ask them to tack on my stripes. There were two young guys, the lowest ranking, and sitting right up front from day one; they participated the most, asked the most questions, and never missed a briefing. What a perfect opportunity for me to join the tier of Senior NCO by doing what I believe SNCO's should do. Recognize the dedication and commitment of younger troops and see that they are praised in front of their peers and supervisors alike.
I ended the days briefing by stating how impressed I was with the two young UPDAF Airmen's grasp of air traffic control, their dedication to learn and asked them to be "the ones" to tack on my stripes the next day, the entire audience erupted. They were shouting "Yah!" and "Way to go!", and "Hit'm hard!" followed by laughter. I could see the pride in their eyes and feel it in their handshake as they thanked me, and I thanked them in return for accepting.
The next morning as the UPDAF Airmen began to file in the room; they instantly shouted out calls of congratulations and shook my hand as they noticed my new stripe.
To make the day even more special there was an air traffic control Chief Master Sgt. in our team, and he presided over the ceremony. He explained that I was not just getting another stripe but becoming a SNCO. That I am recognized as a subject matter expert, a manager, a leader, and that much more would be expected of me. This meant a lot to me so that everyone in the room would know exactly how big of a deal this was. As the Chief read me the charge my fellow NCOs from the UPDAF stood at attention to show me their support.
When the charge was over the moment of truth came. I asked the two young UPDAF Airmen to join me up front and tack on my stripes that would formally bring into the senior NCO tier.
Maybe it was peer pressure or the excitement of being in the spotlight, either way those two young Airmen sure tacked on my stripe, followed by the rest of my UPDAF comrades. Just being able to instill a little pride and motivation into young Airmen in one of our partner nations made this the best promotion ceremony I have ever been a part of... And one I will never forget!