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Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | April 18, 2018

Groom your replacement

By U.S. Air Force Maj. David S. Rhodes, commander 437th Maintenance Squadron

I firmly believe things happen for a reason. This month is my opportunity to provide a Commander’s Commentary and it also happens to be the same month I joined the Air Force 20 years ago. Which means I’m closer to the end of my career than the beginning and when the day comes for me to retire, someone will replace me.


I first heard the phrase, “You need to groom your replacement,” in Airman Leadership School and I’ve heard it numerous times throughout other PME courses, feedbacks, and mentorship discussions…but what does it really mean? I’ll have to admit, up to a few months ago, I’ve always taken a more literal approach spending my efforts training and mentoring the person in line to replace me in the position I was currently filling.


As I sit here as a commander, I thought about who groomed me for this job and when it started.  Nobody waited until I was a Captain and then said, “Now is the time to start getting him ready.” In fact, nobody waited until I was commissioned to start grooming me. I think back to when I was a Senior Airman and my new Flight Chief wouldn’t sign the new tool box inventories without going out and looking at the tool box himself. He taught me when you sign a document, make sure the content is accurate, your signature should mean something every time you put it on a piece of paper. That was 18 years ago and I still think about it before I sign any document. You see, you never know which small lesson you teach someone today will be passed on even after you have long since retired and moved on.


Regardless of your rank or your position you have the opportunity to groom the Airmen who are going to replace you one day. It starts by getting to know your Airmen, finding out about their lives, goals and families…then share your story. You might just be motivating the next Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force to stay in the Air Force.

Next, it’s easy to recognize the individuals who are always stepping up and going above and beyond. However, don’t forget behind every “top 3” there is a list of folks right behind them ready to step up too. They are just waiting for the right opportunity to shine…give it to them! Finally, if you do it right, the lessons you teach will be re-taught throughout many generations…so you have the ability to have an effect on folks who haven’t even been born yet.


I don’t know who is going to replace me one day but I do know, through a formal process, in two years, another maintenance officer will be hired to take this job. Who is going to be the commander in 10 or 20 years? Time will tell, but as I stand in front of the squadron every month during our Maverick’s Call, I see 300+ potentials and it is my job to make sure each of them will be ready to replace me one day. I challenge each of you reading this today to groom all of the Airmen who will be replacing you.