The Picnic Table
(October 18, 2009)
|MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (10/13/2009 - AFNS) --
It was hot. I was sweaty, and I was in no mood for another
pep talk or quiz on Air Force customs and courtesies, or
worse yet, history. We'd been launching jets for several
hours -- pulling pins, checking fuses and making sure the
airplane was ready when the pilots took off.
In the months before, as we drove around the flightline on
similar days, my supervisor would pull out a ragged
promotion fitness examination and ask me questions to
prepare me for the senior airman below-the-zone test. As
evident by my new rank, I aced that board. Though I was
grateful for his help, I was still in no mood.
Returning to the aircraft maintenance unit, the launch van
pulled into the shade, and I started to step out. As I
slipped my arm through the sleeve of my green uniform, I
heard my boss, Sergeant Ashcraft.
"Yancy, wait a minute. I want to talk with you," he called
I grumbled, turned around and headed to an overhang with the
all-too-familiar picnic table.
As we sat there, Sergeant Ashcraft told me he was impressed
with my progress and commented on how well the new stripes
looked on my uniform. We discussed multiple topics including
my home life, progress in college and finances. The
conversation quickly turned to a pep talk, and he began to
stress that I could do whatever I wanted -- be it making
rank, moving to another base or even applying for another
special duty assignment. I smothered a scoff and began to
stand. As I did so, he slipped a staff sergeant stripe into
my shirt pocket and told me to carry it until I made my next
rank. I was a bit dumbfounded, but as always, I did what he
told me to do.
Flash forward roughly a year later. I walked across the
tarmac with a big grin on my face. Although he was no longer
my supervisor, he more than likely knew what I was about to
say. I pulled the staff sergeant stripe from my shirt pocket
and pushed it into Sergeant Ashcraft's hand.
"I don't need this anymore," I told him.
He congratulated me with a hard pop to the arm and then
revealed a technical sergeant stripe. He told me to carry it
until I made technical sergeant, and I did.
I later took an assignment and moved on, but I never forgot
the times Sergeant Ashcraft and I sat at that picnic table.
Throughout the years, I had multiple supervisors, but they
were never as engaged as he was. They never asked me about
my home life or my desires and sadly, few even knew my
wife's first name. To fulfill the void of poor leadership, I
would often contact Sergeant Ashcraft, and he would give me
one of his pep talks to carry me through the rough times.
As I reflect on my past and those times at the picnic table,
I realize that I was more than just a subordinate to
Sergeant Ashcraft. I was part of his family: the Air Force
family. In the early years, he represented my dad, and as we
both grew up in our Air Force, he became my big brother:
someone I could glean advice from or share a thought with.
He was someone who would praise my positive accomplishments
and correct the hijinks of a very young man.
Overall, he shaped the person I am today, and I thank him
for being a strong supervisor. While it's hard today with
the constant deployments and shortages of people, I believe
we can all copy some of Sergeant Ashcraft's leadership
style. He took the time to lead a young, often unruly,
Airman and left a positive and indelible mark on my personal
history. I challenge you to do the same with your troops.
By Yancy Mailes
366th Fighter Wing History Office
Air Force News Service
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