Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader



Howdy. Glad to assist in any way I can. I prefer long walks on the beach on my way to brown bag lunches ;)

The death of the “Good ol’ boy system”.

This is targeted toward the recent news release of eliminating promotion tests for Master Sergeant through Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Let’s get some things out in the clear: The “good ole boy” system isn’t real. We can argue and disagree about it, but I encourage you to read ahead. Its existence might seem real at times, and like any ugly rumor or conspiracy, the more you say it…the more it will become a reality. I’m not saying favoritism doesn’t exist, it’s just not a “real at every base” entity.

I don’t know your opinion on science, but the folks who believe the world is flat serve as an example to me. I’m sure Airmen who are serving or those who have served, who understand how GPS works laugh a bit at the flat earth concept. But, boy there are some people who know it’s flat, and that satellites aren’t real. If we give into the mythical beast of assumption, it becomes an alternative reality. So let’s kill it. Now. Together. It’s your job, as well as mine, to eliminate favoritism and preferential treatment in any chain of command.

Often, when we don’t get what we want or when we can’t understand something, we NEED to find someone to throw a pitchfork at. This is true not only in the military, but in all aspects of our lives. It’s important to accept this natural truth and find ways to constructively confront it and combat it.

The CSAF and CMSAF endorse this move because the Air Force promotion board process works. For the SNCO ranks, the board has always been the vast majority of points you can receive. The argument that no more testing means losing control over your career is also a misnomer. You CAN shape your record. You DO have control. No one is going to take away your achievements and accomplishments.  Let’s discuss how to improve your standing.

First, let focus on what’s wrong with making a post like this. Career-minded people are great! It’s wonderful to have goals and find ways to achieve them… However, folks who get obsessed with careerism might as well live in the upside-down.  If you aren’t moving up for the right reasons, reality will come seek you out.  Often times, it’ll be a bigger problem than you’d anticipate. And if you’re faking the funk, you WILL run out of the energy to keep pretending. Also remember that others may not have promotion goals like you, and that’s OK. Don’t lose respect for those who wish to take their time or those who wish to stay technicians. That’s a toxic cultural norm we’ve created over the years. And it has to stop.

So, let’s say you’ve got the right attitude and the want. It starts there. I’d venture to say that accepting the toughest, most out-of-the-norm jobs often pays the best results. This is true in your workcenter and out. Throughout my time in the service, I’ve been asked to step outside my comfort zone time and time again to accomplish things I didn’t think I was trained enough for, or had enough experience doing. It often meant long days and constantly anticipating solutions for problems that hadn’t even arisen yet. But, it made me aware of the situation at all times and made me present the best version of myself I could!
So what’s the reality? Can you do it? The honest answer is…maybe. Because it’s all about what you put in it. Your assignment or duty title doesn’t dictate your ability to lead. See below for examples.

The advice starts at making goals. 50, 200 and 500 meter targets help me convey this point. Your 50 meter target should be your current job. If you can’t do this well, leading other folks to do the same isn’t going to be a healthy situation. Learn as much as you can and find a way to become a trusted agent for work, tasks, and even change. Becoming the “go-to” expert means you’re going to need to hone your life-work balance skills. Make your influence count! If you don’t have a mentor at this point, find one. They don’t need to be in your career field. Someone who is objective, wiser, and has more perspective than you. The very next rank can also be in this target, depending on your time.

Your 200 meter target should focus on what you’d like to do to help others. Are you active in the development of your Airmen? Do you share your knowledge? If you’re away on leave or TDY, does the mission slow or stop? Are there unit and Wing-wide events coming up that service the Airmen on your base? Is there a promotion social you can be a part of? Could you help to make events like these better? Also are you growing your network? Is there a club for your rank tier, and do you help in strengthening your peer group? These answers take time. Often, lots of time. So, it’s important to forecast an investment in time and people.

The 500 meter target should include educating yourself for the long run. This can include certifications and advanced coursework.  Your goal is to create a pattern of sustained superior performance and continuous improvement. This is not only for yourself, but those you impact. Personal improvement also bolsters your leadership potential. Remember, leadership is not defined by your job title. Leadership is what you do with the opportunities around you. There are a ton of other ways to show leadership, even if you aren’t in charge of the work center or a single person. In addition to taking care of your folks…take care of the boss! Making sure your supervision has less to worry about usually leads to solidifying your followership skills. And that’s paramount to embracing servant leadership.

Lastly, two things often play a part in your journey. Luck and motivation. The right place and the right time is a real thing, and is extremely helpful for some. But motivation will get you past the finish line when Lady Luck misses you.

As an acting Group Superintendent at two Wings, both stateside and overseas, I’ve not only seen, but have been able to take part in voting for Wing awards, Forced Distribution and Stratifications. In both instances, career field biases and favoritism was not shown. No Forced Distributor (read: commander) is ever going to sit amongst their peers and the board president (a General most times at that level), and vouch for a weak record because their troop is their favorite. With that said, if someone is seen as a “favorite” because they kill it at the job, participate in Wing functions, are continuing to develop themselves, and helping their bosses do their job in addition to making sure their team is excelling? Well, that person might be my favorite, too. It’d be clear that they’ve read NCO and SNCO responsibilities in the artist formerly known as the “little brown book” and are embracing Airmanship and Servant Leadership.

We MUST have faith in the system, otherwise it doesn’t work. No system will always be perfect because of the human element. But, by knowing and following the rules and intent, we can make the system work.

If you think the service or your base or your shop is working against you, reach out to your SNCO ranks and ask them to do a records review. It might be enlightening if you haven’t done it yet.

A wise SNCO friend of mine said “Ultimately, if you want to be a leader in the AF, there’s one thing you need to be able to do – lead Airmen. Show that you can do that, and you’ll be competitive for promotion.”

Embrace change and find opportunities in every challenge. Even if the challenge is self-imposed. Just my two cents.


2019: The Year of the Naysayer

Haters, folks with forever condescending remarks, you know… the naysayers. You’ve seen em’, you’ve met em’, you may even be one of these folks. Recently, I had a pretty serious conversation with someone who reached out for assistance. And it got me thinking of past years. Dangerous I know.

” You can’t do that”, “That’s not possible”, “This job isn’t good for you”, “You don’t deserve this, you’re too junior”, “You’re not in touch, you’re too old”, “You don’t have enough experience”, “No”, “It won’t work”, ‘Step in line”, “Shut up and color”, “It’s never been done”, “It hasn’t worked yet, what makes you think you can fix it”, “You don’t have what it takes”, “You’re not strong enough”, “Sorry, you can’t”, “You won’t make a difference”, “No one cares that much” and my favorite: “You don’t have what it takes, you can’t do it”.

During my time as an adult, I’ve heard all of these. To others, to me and to those that I support. I have just this small piece of advice to give, and it’s not from me, but from someone I trust.

Make a game plan. Set goals. Always try, even if the odds are not in your favor if you believe in it. Achieve goals and be true to yourself. What has worked for others may not work for you. And expectations levied upon you sometimes comes from the experience others have… experienced. However, advice from a naysayer is limited from their own perspective and successes, and it’s just that, advice. Make your own success. Set a new bar. Create new standards and use negativity as fuel for achieving your vision. Don’t burn bridges. Network. Seek assistance from everyone. Share everything you know. Take calculated risks! Innovation doesn’t come from the repeat of scenarios. You have to introduce new ideas and different angles to see a different picture. Believe in yourself.

But you have to have goals. So make a plan. And be true to yourself no matter what. Success is a mindset, start thinking you’re a winner and the end result will surprise you. The Naysayers won’t know what hit em’. Good luck!

How my Command Chief, Became a Command Chief

I recently sat down with the Senior Enlisted Leader at my Wing.  This wasn’t my first time sitting down with a Command Chief, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. During our conversation, he explained how he got to his position. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the typical “I worked hard to get here speech”.

The Chief went on to say, that leaders at different stages of his life offered him new jobs. Strange jobs. Uncomfortable jobs that he didn’t think he was ready for… But with the advice and counsel of his mentor, he accepted every challenge as an opportunity. He went on to say that self doubt was in full effect. As an introvert, if you can believe it, he had to “will” himself to gather courage.  Meetings with Senior leaders was a challenge. Doing the unpopular, but right thing, was a challenge. This may have been the most humble man, in uniform or not that I’ve ever met.

Bottom line from the conversation was this: Take every opportunity and job that comes your way. Be  bold, and make a difference. You may be the next Command Chief at your base.



Air Force SSgt(E-5) in 2.5 years?!

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

Yes. It’s mathematically possible.

Enter basic military training with some college, CAP or JROTC under your belt and A1C is sewn on for Graduation Day. Make SrA Below-the-Zone and sew on before the cutoff date and you’re promotion eligible for Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

There’s a long-standing debate of whether someone is “ready” for the next rank, regardless of how soon or fast they are selected to advance.

I’ll quote CMSAF Wright when he said: “Leadership isn’t about rank or position. It’s not about having all the answers. It’s about getting into the trenches and taking care of your people… Never discount what you bring to your team.”

Yes, there will be those a bit “salty” for what seems to be a faster-than-light promotion system, but let’s think of just some of the factors that got us here.

The Air Force NEEDS more NCOs. This isn’t a want… It’s a nessesity.  15 years of combat operations will do that to any military.  Our front-line ranks need replenishing.

So what now? Do we scoff at the hyper-green soon-to-be SSgt? Nope.  Not even a little bit. That’s just counterproductive towards our team goal. We can’t fly, fight or win anything if we are at odds with our own people.

What we NEED are mentors. And we needed them yesterday. If you are a mentor to someone who is junior to you and are downloading every bit of professional development that you’ve received into your Airman, you’re doing your part. The only way that we’re going to see a stronger, faster, and more committed force is when we act like a team. Again, the Air Force is going to promote people based on the system we have.  And for those selected with minimal time in service… moving up from JV to Varsity is going to have it’s own challenges that they will have to deal with and grow from.  The question is: Are you doing your part to make the team…work?

Write your own EPR… Seriously.

“My supervisor didn’t do me justice.”

“I didn’t even see my EPR until it was time for a signature.”

“I submitted bullets and they didn’t even use them.”

Any of these sound familiar? It’s pretty common to assume that a performance report is going to be written by your supervisor, in any job, military or not. The biggest difference in the military though, is how much impact a collection of fragmented sentences have on say: Career opportunities, Early Promotion, Forced Distribution, Quarterly Awards, Annual Awards, AF level Awards, Promotion Boards, Stratification Panels, Job Interviews, Inbound Supervisor Perceptions, Quality Reviews and a few more that don’t come to mind immediately.

So here comes my analogy. Writing your own evaluation is akin to marinading a steak, seasoning it how you like it and handing it off to the Chef to cook. Sure, some Chefs are great on the fly… But some just make things taste bad… Some even burn things. Especially if they don’t have the recipe right.

Preparing your own EPR provides you not only practice on getting better with the whole bullet writing ordeal but it also allows your supervisor to tweak what you know you’ve done.  You may not have the final say, but doesn’t prep work make all the difference? Just remember; Act-Fact-Impact. What did you do? How did you do it? And lastly, who did it effect?

Take the lead. As an old Airman once said “The only person who will consistently take care of you, is you.”






Forced Distribution works… kinda.

There are a number of ways to increase your chances of advancement in today’s Air Force. Taking the time and memorizing the Professional Development Guide is one way, maxing out decoration points is another and finally; being selected as a “Must Promote or Promote Now” via Forced Distribution increases your chances as well. This is especially true for the ranks Senior Airmen through Technical Sergeant.

The question isn’t “Why are we racking and stacking E-4s as if they were headed to the E-7 boards?” Although it may superficially seems so…

The question is “What can I do to increase my odds of moving up?”

While it may seem like a crap-shoot for a higher Forced Distribution rating, there are ways to make you more competitive vs. your peers. Hence the title of this blog. There are a number of Airmen who self eliminate by not competing well. Here’s some helpful tips to aid you in your quest:

1. Lead… everything. Upcoming project? Ask to lead it if you can. No volunteers for a base function? Lead it.  Airmen’s Council, 5/6 or Top 3 needs a effort lead?  Jump on it like it’s on fire.

2. Be better at your job than your rank requires you to be.  Just don’t be a jerk about it.  If you just said “that’s not me” in your head, it’s probably you.  Just sayin’

3. Embrace reality.  Everyone thinks they are great. Just look at the EPR’s of your supervisors. It’s like someone photocopied ratings that once stood, and made a book out of them. With that said, know that in reality most people are not truly among the best, but can certainly strive to be. Judge yourself vs. your peers rather than your ego.

4. Awards. Don’t fool yourself and think that awards via achievement or awards for performance mean nothing.  And telling yourself that these things are for “woodchuckers” and people who don’t do their job is a very shallow way of thinking. It’s one of the best ways for people who are reviewing your record, that your leadership endorses you.

5. Continued Education. Whether it’s a CCAF, B.S/A. or a Certification, the Air Force promotes you getting your education on. Even as recently as the CMSAF announcing that PDUs (Professional Development Units) are going to be a reality.  Plus it adds to your resume once your service is done.

6. Testing.  We’ve seen the numbers. Folks with low decoration points and a “Promote” statement get promoted like everyone else. But taking the time to score a 75 or higher usually ends up in being selected for advancement. Period.

7. Find a mentor.  Walking through life without direction seldomly gets you to the finish line in a timely manner. Find someone who’s been there and latch on for dear life. When it’s said and done, do the same for someone younger than you.


8. Followership. Making rank in the military is comparable to playing chess. If advancement is in your goal plan, then it’s a long game that you’re setting yourself up for. I’ve always found that if you are making sure that your supervisor is being taken care of, they will take care of you. And no good leader ever made it to the top without understanding what followership means.

The chips may land where they do, but make sure that the odds are in your favor by doing what’s needed to compete on a level playing field.





How to get Promoted (or not)

Promotion. Yep, touchy subject for some these days…

Despite the effort to create a more balanced & equitable system for advancement, there are those who feel that however revolutionary the initiative was sold, the new “forced distribution” replaces an antiquated 5-tiered system with, well, you guessed it, another 5-tiered system.

“Stop calling it a 3, 4 or 5 EPR!”, you’ll hear a number of senior leaders say. This of course becomes awkward as Airmen have been programmed from a very young age that one block, followed by two others, equals three blocks. Shapes are fun right?

So, let’s get to the point. How does one get promoted in today’s Air Force? How do you become more competitive for higher forced distribution rankings and further up, stratifications? It can be simple, if you are willing to read further.

Here’s a list of three ideas/thoughts that will aid you in your quest for the next stripe. (with subheadings of course)

1. Score well. For the ranks of Staff to Chief Master Sergeant, scoring more than an 80 rarely fails you. Sure, there are cases where it isn’t enough due to other factors, but scoring a “B-” on a memorization test is hardly rocket science.  It takes time and determination, but so does baking.

2. Read NCO/SNCO responsibilities in AFI 36-2618 “The Enlisted Force Structure”, aka “The little brown book”. This may seem like a scavenger hunt to discover what to do to make yourself more competitive, but once you take away the common sense paragraphs like “know where your Airmen eat and visit them” and “be a good wingman”, you will see as Russell Crowe did, in the movie classic “A Beautiful Mind”, a code for what your quantifiable responsibilities are and what will set you apart from the pack (in paraphrase):

– Promote esprit de corps and get involved in private orgs (5/6, Top III)

– Provide career counseling for others (mentor sessions, pro development brown bag lunches)

– Get your CCAF and continue your development and encourage your people to do the same (take school)

– Be an active, visible leader, in your unit, on your base & in your community (lead a volunteer event in your community, be seen and make an impact)

– Clearly meet, and strive to exceed all standards. (Awards, achievements & recognition help show that)

And most importantly… Kick butt at your job.

None of these matter if your work performance is… sub-par.  Of course there are a number of other factors that will assist you in standing out from the rest of your peer group, but these extracts are literally YOUR RESPONSIBILITY in the current rank you are in.  Don’t believe me? Read AFI 36-2618… really just do it. Not for me, for you. I’m serious. Not kidding.

3. Be realistic, in all that you do.  It’s great to want to get promoted, but understand that each rank tier has it’s expectations. If you’re a SSgt that demands to be the next MSgt, you should probably be the BEST technician you can be at your rank. This only solidifies your reputation as the go-to Airman for the job.  This in turn, keeping the advice above in your hip pocket, will make you competitive for the E-6 cycle.  Then, as you make TSgt, your leadership qualities are expected to grow as you mature in rank. To get to MSgt however, keep this in mind; People aren’t promoted based on thier current work, rather, the potential to accomplish greater work at the next level. So make sure you EPR reads that you are operating at the level you should be promoted to.  Expecting to jump from TSgt to CMSgt as Tyrese Gibson did in Transformers 1 to 2, isn’t realistic, but following these steps and handling your rank responsibilities will get there in the proper time and in the right way.

So regardless of whether it’s a 5,7 or 27-tiered system that represents your annual work; study for your tests like you are back in actual school, know what the Air Force expects of you where you are at and be realistic.

Oh, and revisit this blog (shameless plug, really), It’s that simple.


– JD







Bullet Writing… For Dummies (like me)

Ah, the art of bullet writing. From the very first Air Force evaluation in the wonder years of the late 1940’s to today’s latest EPR form, many have been bested by the arduous task of taking life itself, amplifying it’s quintessence, whittling large narratives and compartmentalizing facts into… A single; three part bullet–with an impact [here].

So, where to begin? Let’s take into account how much weight an Air Force bullet holds. It’s a remarkable statement that can change the tide of a SrA Below-the-zone competition, it can validate those who are, as written, the best performers of the quarter/year and it can make or break promotion recommendations and even promotions themselves.

The bullet formula has many styles; from it’s simplest form of “Act-Impact”, then to a more in-depth and commonly used “Action-Result-Impact”.  Personally, I find the latter to have two parts that are redundant. A result is and can also be an impact.

So we arrive at what I prefer, “Act-Fact-Impact” or AFI for short. Vaguely familiar right?

The end result of shaping your bullet with “Act-Fact-Impact” allows you to write in an active voice. Active voice is the preferred way of speaking as it is direct and to the point. “Airman David ate breakfast”. The active voice is broken into 3 parts as well; Actor, Action and Recipient.

Let’s put it to practice. If Airman David helped with base clean-up, spent 8 hours bagging leaves, cleaned 4 square miles and led his fellow airman in the charge we can extract this bullet:

– Led 4-man team in base beautification; cleaned 4 sq miles in 8 hours–improved image of facilities & compound.

Sure, this is a simple bullet, but it’s exactly what happened. And anyone who reads it regardless of AFSC will know what it means. As we said at the begining, let’s keep it simple. What did you do(act), tell me something about it(fact) and how did impact others?(impact).  Now take this simplistic bullet and fine tune it with a much stronger impact such as cost savings or manpower efficiency and you’re good to go.

A common thought is that this is acceptable:

– Led 4 BSRP Ann/NCO TARPA proj; 6 BMP/JPG/MOV increase vs ABCsec tm–inc prod 500% to USAF std

For your career field, that may be the trend.  It is not acceptable as it isn’t helpful.  Bullets weighed down with catastrophic acronyms and decoder ring secured details may seem important, but let’s be honest. Any reviewing panel previously mentioned that oversee awards or such will start drooling as the grey matter leaks out of the judges’ ears. Keep it simple. For the judges… think of the safety of the panel.

To conclude, these “great works of fiction” or similar language that some have come accustomed to referencing, don’t have to be that.

Just remember, AFI or Act, Fact & Impact. Often times, the best solution is also the simplest.



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