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NEWS | April 7, 2016

Relationships between supervisor and subordinate more than mission critical

By Col. Rick Mathews, commander 628th Mission Support Group

Joint Base Charleston's most precious asset is its people and the relationships amongst them.  The most critical of these relationships is that of the supervisor and the subordinate, which is typically experienced-to-inexperienced in nature.  I argue this relationship has impacts that go far beyond mission success or failure.

My first supervisor was SSgt. Rice.  I met him the day I arrived at my very first permanent duty station at Nellis AFB, Nevada as an 18-yr old Airman Basic fresh out of Technical School.  My assignment was a little different than what most first-term, single Airmen experience because I was required to live off-base instead of an on-base dormitory.  Fortunately, SSgt. Rice was there to help me because I was clueless about how to find a place to live.  I had lived with my parents joining the Air Force.  I didn't even know what a lease agreement meant and I was looking at apartments with rent rates that consumed most of my paycheck.  SSgt. Rice asked me if I had considered the other costs required to maintain a household, such as electricity, phone and food (no cell phones or internet in 1985).  Of course, I had not considered these additional expenses.  SSgt. Rice helped me develop a budget and assisted me through the whole process of getting an apartment. 

Next, SSgt. Rice asked how I planned on getting to and from work.  He informed me that public transit in Las Vegas was not very efficient or safe.  I needed a car and SSgt. Rice helped me realize, very quickly, I could only afford a basic, used car.  He also educated me on the responsible ownership and operation of an automobile, including insurance, maintenance and fuel costs.  He helped me find a car insurance company and assisted me in purchasing an appropriate insurance policy since I had no idea what comprehensive, collision and liability coverage meant. 

I got settled into a routine learning my job and the military way of life.  My assignment required me to drive from my apartment to the base where I caught a plane to fly up range to work as a Weather Specialist.  I would remain up range at work for four 12-hour shifts and then return to Las Vegas for three days off.  Every four-day shift SSgt. Rice would ask me what I was doing during my off time.  I was a little defensive about his interest in how I spent my personal time.  It makes sense now.  I was a young, 18-yr old Airman living by myself in a studio apartment in downtown Las Vegas two blocks from the casino strip.  There were risky influences all around and SSgt. Rice wanted to ensure I wasn't getting into trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd.
I remember arriving at work one day with my first credit card. It had a $750 credit limit and I felt like I won the lottery.  I was ready to max out my card on a new car stereo and speakers.  Again, SSgt. Rice sat me down for more mentoring teaching me about credit card interest rates.  I didn't buy the car stereo.

SSgt. Rice had many attributes I began trying to emulate but, what I appreciated most, was the way he spoke to me.  He always treated me with respect.  The Air Force taught me in Basic Military Training to respect my supervisor and superiors but SSgt. Rice taught me it is just as important to show respect and express confidence in subordinates.  A good supervisor/subordinate relationship is one of mutual respect.

A supervisor's impact and influence on subordinates is much more than teaching them their job and accomplishing the mission.  Leadership and mentorship have lifetime impacts on those being led.  Strong, effective relationships are especially critical to our young, new Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.  I challenge supervisors to keep this perspective as they lead.  Additionally, since we are all subordinates, I challenge each of us to listen to our supervisors as well.