TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The 12th Air Force command chief, Chief Master Sergeant Gerardo Tapia Jr., met with Airmen Feb. 2-3 here to get a first-hand look at 552nd Air Control Wing operations and Tinker Air Force Base.
The visit marked Chief Tapia and 12th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Robin Rand's first trip to Tinker since taking over the top two leadership positions within the command late last year.
"It is an absolute honor to be your command chief at 12th Air Force. I take representing you and your families very, very seriously," said Chief Tapia.
The chief and General Rand received various mission briefings, visited squadrons and had breakfast with 552nd ACW Airmen, among other things, during their stay.
"I am very impressed with the Air Control Wing 'can-do' attitude," Chief Tapia said. "These Airmen have a very strong leadership team with very high standards. They come across as professional, they come across as fit Airmen and they come across as balanced Airmen."
Holding an enlisted call at the 552nd Operations Group Auditorium, the chief addressed current force structuring, budgetary woes, training, education and resiliency challenges being experienced at 2th AF and within the Air Force as a whole.
"We have got to be more efficient with everything we do," the chief said. "And that includes training for our Airman."
The chief challenged Airmen to pursue higher education and degree programs, emphasizing this can be done "one class at a time."
Chief Tapia told the packed auditorium there were some things that kept him up at night, "especially when we lose an Airman."
The chief stressed that a good support system is essential.
"I have recent sand on my boots, I know what the stressors are and this is something that is very near and dear to me," the chief said.
"The day you or a loved one deploys is not the time to start building a relationship with your support system. Obviously, that should happen way beforehand," he said.
He encourages Airmen and their spouses to use every resource available and to develop support relationships with their squadron's first sergeant and key spouses within the unit.
Have those relationships already built so you can pick up the phone, so that you have complete and utter confidence in the unit and can ask for help, he tells his Airmen.
"And guess where a lot of that relationship building starts?" the command chief asked those Airmen in attendance. "It happens at that squadron picnic where you network and get to know who the squadron commander and first sergeant are personally."
The chief encourages Airman and their loved ones to learn where the Airman and Family Readiness Center is located and participate in supporting other deployed spouses prior to deployment.
"It's about being a good wingman," said the chief.
Training, preparing for future conflicts
Meeting the challenge of fighting today's conflicts while training Airmen to fight the conflicts of the future will take a culture empowerment and thinking outside the box, said the chief.
This area is challenging now and it is going to become even more challenging with limited resources, he said.
"I will tell you that when we do this [meet the challenges] we've got to be innovative, we have to find efficiencies everywhere," the chief said. "We've been given a set of tools and what you build with those tools is going to be the end result of a lot of hard work. Training isn't any different; we've got to find better and more efficient ways to conduct everything we do.
"Creating that culture empowerment is going to take a blended leader, a leader with a mind for business and a heart for Airmen," said Chief Tapia.
Reflecting on his own experiences in Afghanistan, the chief said he wants Airmen, who find themselves downrange in a hostile environment for the first time, to trust their training.
"Be a good wingman and give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time," said Chief
When it comes to priorities, the command chief master sergeant for 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern Command doesn't hesitate, "My priorities are my boss's priorities," he said.
12th Air Force is duel-hatted as the air and space component to U.S. Southern Command. "There are two mission sets," the chief said.
"On the 12th Air Force - Air Combat Command side - we organize, train, equip, coach, motivate, inspire and lead Airman every single day so the combatant commander has ready forces when he requests," said the chief.
"On the U.S. Southern Command side, we have different priorities," he said. "The number one priority is counter transnational organized crime in the form of illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking and weapons proliferation."
The second priority in the [USSOUTHCOM] mission set, the chief said, is that of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief role the command plays in South America.
And the last priority, he said, "is that of building partnership capacity - making sure those countries we are arm and arm with can increase their capabilities."
Chief Tapia admitted the day-and-a-half visit to Tinker just wasn't enough time to get to know his Airmen at the 552nd ACW.
"I hope to be back soon," said the chief. "I've got to feel like I know you, like I belong, like I wear the same sweatshirt with the patch on it."
"It is an honor and privilege to consider myself to be a representative of your wing [552 ACW]," he said.