CAMP DAWSON, W.Va. -- Over 400 enlisted Airmen, selected from across the 90 Air National Guard wings, attended the 2018 Air National Guard Enlisted Leadership Symposium at Camp Dawson, West Virginia, Aug. 15-17, 2018.
The 2018 ELS, hosted by ANG Command Chief Master Sgt. Ronald C. Anderson, is an annual three-day event in which the ANG enlisted force engages in discussion and interaction led by a variety of subject matter experts in their respective fields.
“This is truly one of the best weeks of my life,” Anderson said. “Being here and hearing what’s on the Airmen’s minds is what gets me going. To know we are focused on the same things and communicating together gives me the confidence that we are on the right path as a force in respect to innovation and readiness.”
Focused on the theme, “Communicating Change Across the 21st Century”, attendees were briefed on subjects like national, military and defense strategy, addressing the challenges facing today’s force, and developing innovative leaders within the Guard. Attendees also had breakout sessions with former command chiefs of the ANG and senior leaders from across the field in which they engaged in tier-focused discussions about leadership and fostering innovation and communication within the ranks.
“Airmen are staggering and amazing,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Muncy, 10th command chief of the ANG, to the junior enlisted members of the group. “The things that you do as Airmen, whether in communications, working on aircraft or with security, are light years ahead of what is required of you and who you are.”
ELS attendees are selected from among the best and brightest in each wing. Each year, attendees are selected by their wing command chief through a year-long process starting with the ANG command chief, based on a target audience of his selection. This year, Anderson’s target audience was enlisted council officers. Last year, the audience comprised annual award winners.
“Communicating change and how we can make that happen was the presiding theme this year,” said Senior Master Sgt. Tracie Peckham, ELS project manager, 167th Airlift Wing, West Virginia ANG. “All of the speakers and presentations tied in to how we as enlisted members can make that happen. Because of the council leaders, there was a heavy Enlisted Field Advisory Council (EFAC) presence, which is an advisory panel of command chiefs from across the ANG. This is how you bring together the people who can be catalysts for change.”
Director of the Air National Guard, Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, was one of the two commissioned officers invited to address the attendees, comprised solely of enlisted Airmen ranging in rank from airman to chief master sergeant. Rice spoke about the importance of respect, development and the challenge of innovation.
“When it comes to the knowledge, value and input Airmen bring to who and what we are as we serve our nation in uniform, in terms of respect, we are all the same,” said Rice. “Every one of you have innovative ideas. Our challenge as an agency is how we get leadership to pull that innovation out of you.”
Retired Chief Master Sgt. James Hotaling, 11th command chief of the ANG, served as the keynote speaker for the event, delivering a fiery and passionate call to action to the room of current and future leaders.
“If you don’t see yourself as a leader, you need to get out,” Hotaling stated. “The nation doesn’t have time for you to not see yourself as a leader. Think of yourself as a master craftsman. Leadership is a developed, physical activity. You have to master your craft.”
The importance of building relationships and interaction was also a common theme during the symposium. Attendees were able to connect with Airmen from across the country during social networking events and a Combat Dining-In, a military tradition of bringing together the ranks in fellowship, camaraderie and good-natured fun.
“As one of the lowest ranking Airmen here, it’s inspiring to see all of the levels of leadership and how they interact” said Airman 1st Class Julia Thomas, a material management specialist from the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard. “It’s great seeing that balance; seeing them professionally, and then maybe seeing them at the dining-in, maintaining professionalism while still having a good time. They engaged us. I am watching everything they do so that I can lead my Airmen like that one day. They are teaching us so much this week.”
One interactive event within the symposium was a capstone project, where attendees reviewed challenges facing the Guard and presented their analysis and suggestions to the EFAC. These suggestions were submitted officially and will be reviewed by the ANG command chief for possible implementation. This process is just one of the ways Anderson hopes he can foster innovation within the Guard.
“I need what Airmen bring to the fight, collectively, because we are absolutely, exponentially better together than we are apart,” Anderson said.