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Servant leadership

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Melissa Sterling, Special to 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
  • 920th Rescue Wing

Command Chief Master Sgt. Shane Smith bid farewell to the wing during a final flight here February 5 before his departure for a new assignment after 25 years in the 920th Rescue Wing.

Chief Smith spent the majority of his 25 years with the wing as a combat rescue loadmaster where he deployed for numerous operations including Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. He served as Loadmaster Chief Enlisted Manager from 2015-2017 and then as Superintendent of the 920th Operations Group for two years until his current position as Command Chief Master Sergeant.

He joined the wing when it was the 301st Rescue Squadron. He remembers when it became the 920th Rescue Group in 1997 and then in 2003 became the 920th Rescue Wing. During those changes the wing grew from about 350 Airmen to 2,200 Airmen and doubled the number of assets it maintained and flew.

“We’re very diverse and touch every part of the mission when somebody needs to be rescued, which has grown and evolved over the past 20 years,” said Chief Master Sgt. Smith.

He has witnessed the wing execute many humanitarian missions stateside and abroad, support operations in the Middle East, and overcome losses. He’s also seen a change in Air Force culture and how the wing has responded.

“We were directed to accelerate, change, or lose and really we began the shift prior to being directed,” he said. “We’re focusing and preparing to do rescues in a different environment and to deploy as a whole wing.”

The wing has traditionally deployed in pieces as needed with either the operations or the support parts of a mission. Deploying as a whole wing means everyone needs the same skills to sustain a mission in an austere environment.

“When support functions are out in the field training it gives them more confidence,” he said. “Changing how we operate and involving everyone has made the wing a tighter group and helps us avoid becoming stagnant and complacent.”

Over the years as he’s seen a variety of different leadership styles and has used each to enhance how he chose to lead.

“Each commander has a different background and brings a different perspective to the 920th and each perspective and way of leading has helped me broaden my own way of thinking and leadership style,” he said.

Throughout his career he took every opportunity to learn what kind of leader he wanted to be and he gravitated toward one type of leadership: servant leadership. 

For the past three years as command chief he mentored other senior leaders and ensured the people around him were the best fit for the job. He wanted leaders who were focused on what they could do for their Airmen versus what their Airmen could do for them. He knows it’s not practical or possible for him to solve everyone’s problems but that it’s much more effective for him to enable others and give them the tools and resources to solve their own problems.

“I saw the value in being a servant leader and understanding that nobody works for me, I work for them,” he said. 

Chief Smith concluded his time at the 920th RQW by participating in the wing’s Fury Horizon exercise and received a final flight on an HH-60 Pave Hawk on his return to Patrick Space Force Base where a large contingent of Airmen were waiting to hose him down in congratulations during a time-honored tradition. He will now become the Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chief of Air Force Reserve at Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command.