By Tech. Sgt. Rob Hazelett, Air Reserve Personnel Center Public Affairs
/ Published July 24, 2014
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Col. Sean McElhaney Pahia had a shocking moment when Maj. Gen. Peggy Poore, Air Force Personnel Center commander, told him he was going to be assigned here as the Air Reserve Personnel Center's new vice commander.
"There was that long pause, like, 'Did you just tell me what I think you told me?'" said McElhaney Pahia who arrived here June 23, 2014. "I walked out the door and I had to confirm it with the executive officer. The next day, I even had to confirm it again because I just couldn't believe I was given this dream assignment."
The 22-year veteran comes from a long line of military family members. His paternal grandfather served in the Army, his maternal grandfather was a Navy chief petty officer, his father served in the Air Force security forces and his sister is a retired Air Force master sergeant.
During a recent interview, he discussed what it meant to be selected as ARPC's vice commander, his leadership philosophy, challenges he's had in his Air Force career and his goals for the center.
"I feel a big sense of responsibility in this position because we service up to one million customers who depend on ARPC. Therefore, I need to ensure I do my best to care for and assist the ARPC teams who deliver Class A service," he said. "That's what I really love about this job...helping people so they can succeed in accomplishing the Air Force mission."
He acknowledged people at ARPC have heard Brig. Gen. Samuel "Bo" Mahaney, ARPC commander, make reference to the center as the "Thundering Herd."
"It makes sense. A great organization that supports a large number of customers cannot afford to let road blocks degrade service levels. Therefore, seeing ARPC being proactive in clearing roadblocks is very refreshing," he said.
His leadership philosophy includes the Air Force core values and communication.
"Integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do is very important in the business we perform and our customers demand it," he said. "If we maintain high integrity standards, remain unselfish and put the customer first while always trying our best, this organization should always be proud of the service being delivered."
He also said open communication is critical to a healthy organization.
"I have found that 80-90 percent of any issue can be traced back to lack of communication. Therefore, I truly believe in an open door policy to help facilitate a better flow of information. When something doesn't sound right, then communicate to the right person to ensure you have the whole story. If something is going on, come tell me," he said. "When you identify a problem first, we can come together as a team to see if we can solve it. This also allows a better understanding of resources, priorities and how we need to set customer expectations."
Before his current assignment, he was the deputy director for the Total Force Service Center, Headquarters AFPC, Joint Base San Antonio - Randolph, Texas. He said his previous assignment is a perfect tie-in to his job here.
"The experience at AFPC helped me get a jump start on serving all three components and the unique demands of each customer base," he said. "During the past several years, I've worked in conjunction with ARPC to interlink the two Total Force Service Centers in order to deliver personnel services to our customers no matter where they are."
He mentioned ARPC has a great reputation and he has some goals to help ARPC become even better.
"First and foremost, I want to learn as much as I can from everyone in ARPC. This is one of those rare assignments that is Total Force and I want to help out as much as possible. Also, I'm excited to join General Mahaney in his quest to improve ARPC's current technology and be able to create a more dynamic delivery system of new technologies to reduce workload we know should be automated," he said. "My goal is to also get the manpower levels ARPC deserves to ensure continued high service levels. We all have a drive to take care of our customer...it's in our DNA."
McElhaney Pahia said at the end of the day there will always be challenges and that's how we grow and learn.
"I was flying at Peterson AFB when a medical condition grounded me and I wondered if my career was over. However, my strong military family background helped me realize other opportunities were now available and I became excited in my transition back to personnel," he said. "I don't think if I stayed in the cockpit I'd be where I am today. My grandfather always told me, 'There is a reason for everything; it will just take time to find out why.' This helped me establish a positive outlook on life and a motto in which 'It doesn't matter if the glass is half empty or half full; at least there's something to drink.'"
The advice he'd give to younger Airmen is to develop and maintain the same attitude and take on challenges.
"When people are smiling and laughing they are more excited to come to work. They become more comfortable, it becomes easier to learn processes, and it reflects when dealing with customers," he said. "There will always be challenges, but a great attitude gets you through any issue. Also, don't be afraid of taking on challenges because they are windows to success. I believe these are good lifelong lessons that keep people going."
He addressed one last question he knows people might ask...Where did the long name come from?
"I see it all the time in everybody's faces," he said. "My wife and I met in Hawaii. She's a Pahia and I'm a McElhaney. Her father is Hawaiian and had two daughters and we felt the continuation of the name was important. Therefore, we put Pahia last so people could call us the 'McPs' for short."
McElhaney Pahia and his wife, Karie, have been married for 7 years. They have two children: Gabriel, just about to turn 6, and Kaela, 2. He said his hobby is spending as much spare time with his family as he can.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation from the Reserve Officer Training Corps, Detachment 250 at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, in December 1991. He has a solid foundation in manpower, personnel and services as a graduated squadron commander, numbered Air Force director and AFPC deputy director
McElhaney Pahia, who has more than 400 flight hours, earned his Masters of Arts degree in computer resource management at Webster University in St Louis in 1996. In 2010, he graduated from the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
As ARPC vice commander, McElhaney Pahia is responsible for personnel support to nearly one million Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and retired members, ensuring they are ready to deliver strategic total force war fighting capability for the Air Force. From initial entry to retirement, the center provides world-class support for "Generations of Airmen" throughout their military careers. The center is a major command direct reporting unit of Air Force Reserve Command.