You are today's 'Sergeant Whalen'

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. David Carlson
  • ARPC Superintendent
During the past 24 years, I've learned so much from my day-to-day interaction with supervisors, leaders and fellow Airmen. Hind sight is 20/20, and I can tell you that supervisors sometimes make mistakes. We, as supervisors, will not always make a perfect call for each situation. That is part of learning and growing. But we must make sure that we recall these experiences, both the good and the bad, and apply them correctly in future supervisory situations. 

In November 1983, I graduated Security Police Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. I was a Defender. I was proud of my beret. I was an expert in small arms; I could complete a body search without assistance; I could apply handcuffs with the best of them; I could easily find pressure points if my "customers" needed help with compliance. I could take down an adversary, complete building searches and assist victims. And, I was confident and on my way to the Strategic Air Command at Ellsworth AFB, S.D. I was going to be a SAC-trained killer. 

I pulled into Ellsworth on a cold November night. I checked into the base and met my new supervisor, Sergeant Whalen (back when there was a rank between senior airman and staff sergeant). He gave me my flight assignment and told me when to report. And of course, since I was already an "expert," so I figured everything would be just great. 

When I first walked into our hanger to draw my weapon, every bit of confidence left me along with most of the things I had learned in the Air Force. The Air Force assigned me, an airman basic, into a 115-man Security Police flight. These men were mean. Not a kind bone in their bodies. They may as well have soaked me in salmon oil and set me on a bear-infested riverbank. 

I quickly realized that I was not the expert I thought I was and that I had an incredible amount to learn. I also realized that my first supervisor, Sergeant Whalen, was the only man that could get me through this. 

During the next weeks, months and years, he taught me how to see the big picture when it came to the job. He mentored me on techniques for dealing with people problems and co-worker conflicts. He taught me how quickly respond to an incident as part of a team and correctly deal with the situation at hand; how to coexist with Airmen of different backgrounds; how to enforce the law and still be respectful; how to be supportive of other Airmen when they struggled with family issues; how to earn the respect of my fellow co-workers. 

And when my brain cells failed and I forgot what he taught me after his second or third attempt, he taught me how to wax floors like nobody's business. 

I realize now that if it weren't for Sergeant Whalen's leadership, patience and supervisory skills, I am nearly certain that I would not be where I am today. The skills he used to mentor me are in my tool kit and available to me whenever the situation may arise. 

Today we are a force tested by war, with incredible leaders and with phenomenal Airmen. We are a much leaner force - 337,000 strong - just 56 percent of what it was in 1983 when Sergeant Whalen mentored me. We cannot afford to let even one Airman slip through the cracks. You are today's "Sergeant Whalen."