Just a promote…really?!?

Many of those in our units and maybe even you have had this thought over the past couple of months with the TSgt and SSgt SCOD. I know I have recently thought this as those on my team have been receiving their evals back. I have 42 NCOs that have been hand-picked to become instructors in our field training detachment. As of this moment, I know of only one TSgt and one SSgt who received anything higher than a “promote.” To me, this is crazy!

At first thought, I was pissed for the following reasons: we are the biggest detachment in our squadron operating at the busiest base in our command. We have been near flawless on every major inspection and those in the unit go over and above what is expected on a daily basis. There are multiple group level award winners in this unit and even more at the squadron level. There are four with Master’s degrees and almost a third have a Bachelor’s and almost all have two CCAF degrees. All of our team wears more than one hat and has multiple duties and each runs at least one program that is at the Air Force level and inspected by our host and MAJCOM on a regular basis. In my eyes, they are all “promote now’s.”

It was at the point of this thought that I finally had a moment of clarity. This way of thinking is what sank the old system. As a leader, I am very proud of the efforts of my entire team. I think each one operates at a very high level. However, each one of my peers thinks the exact same thing about those on their teams. There is no way all are in the top tier. The commanders have a very tough time trying to figure out the top 15% of these high caliber NCOs in each unit.

It  is tough to imagine their stress while sifting through the data, but even tougher to imagine the feeling of this gut punch that is being felt by those who are most important to our Air Force: the NCOs. These one on one and team leaders are making a difference in the lives of so many every day and some of us are callously breezing over these feelings. I, for one, have never had to and will never experience the feeling they have right now being lumped in with those with paperwork, fitness fails, etc. I think I would be distraught too.

I have received a lot of gut punches over the years though. This is nothing new for most of us. What I have learned is I have two choices: stay on the ground and wallow in my pain until someone picks me up or pick myself up and move forward. I have done both and really respect those who pick themselves up…it is not easy. Those who wallow are depending on us to guide them on the way moving forward.

The most important part of this system is out of our control and in the hands of the commander. What we can control as NCOs is the verbiage on the eval. We can ensure they stand out for their efforts and show the leaders that they truly are. That does require us to push them to keep track of all their achievements better than before. Also, it will require us to mentor better on writing evals to fully articulate how good they really are.

Meanwhile, we need to have conversations and allow them to vent their feeling and thoughts. The “suck it up buttercup” mentality is not going to help and will just perpetuate their feelings of being abandoned. Instead listen to their concerns and do your best to keep them motivated. I reminded my high achievers that they weren’t doing great things simply for a bullet on the eval; rather, they had a ‘why’ for what they did/do. Talk to them about their ‘why’ and help them to move forward.

We do need to empathize with how they feel and then help them stand back up. After that, let’s take control of the area we have power over and make sure our stars are able to stand out. Even if they end up with “promotes” we can hold our heads high alongside those on our teams and continue to help them move forward. That gut punch will not get easier; however, they will walk away from it as a stronger person who has not lost sight of why he or she is serving.

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