Lieutenant Rock Star

  • Published
  • By CMSgt Atticus C. Smith
  • Command Chief, 388th Fighter Wing
The power of a lieutenant; to some people that statement may sound like an oxymoron. Maybe a lieutenant colonel or a lieutenant general but a young lieutenant with power; come on! How ridiculous is that? Not ridiculous at all; enter Lieutenant Rock Star.

Lieutenant Rock Star was an F-15 pilot. After months of training, his first duty station was Elmendorf AFB Alaska. It was a typical cold Alaska morning and Lieutenant Rock Star was scheduled to fly. He went through a standard flight briefing, after the brief he was off to life support and then hopped in a truck to be driven to his awaiting jet. It was a standard morning for Lieutenant Rock Star.

As Lieutenant Rock Star was going through his routine; I, the young, naive, excited Airman Smith was going through my daily routine on the flight line. I served on mid shift so my duty was to prepare the aircraft for the morning takeoffs. Typically the takeoffs happened after my shift ended but that day was different. The takeoffs were several hours earlier than the norm. This meant that I had the opportunity to assist with launching the jet.

I saw the blue aircrew van enter the flight line; soon Lieutenant Rock Star was dropped off at the jet I was assigned to. I instinctively started to do a "once over" on the training munitions that were loaded. Shortly after, something neat happened. The lieutenant came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I explained and he seemed genuinely interested. After my short show and tell, he thanked me for my efforts and patted me on my back. Soon he strapped in, brought the jet to life and taxied out. As the jet rolled off he gave me a fist pump, followed by a thumbs up and a wave. Boy, I thought I was so cool.

A few days later I went to the base gym for a work out. From a distance I saw the lieutenant. Immediately he recognized me and walked towards me. He shook my hand, we chatted for a bit, and then he went on his way. Boy, I thought I was so cool.

Two times within a week an officer, a pilot no less, tracked me down and said hello to me. After those two meetings, I was always on the lookout for Lieutenant Rock Star; I was anxious to see him again whether on the flight line or around base. He had a certain power over me. As I progressed in my career, I learned there's an official term for what I felt. Lieutenant Rock Star had referent power.

In the context of leadership, power is nothing more than the potential to influence and referent power is based largely on someone's personal traits. Typically, people who are seen as likeable or charismatic often evoke referent power. It's a personal power trait to which followers respect, feel good about and are committed to their leader.

Looking back, I'm sure the lieutenant didn't have the slightest clue as to the affect he had on me. In the grand scheme of things, I'm sure the lieutenant was doing all he could just to keep his head above water. The two encounters I had with him were nothing outside the potential happenings of a normal day; although, nothing normal resulted.

The brief moments I had with him made me feel special, important and appreciated. I believe the average officer, and even NCO, underestimates the potential influence they may have on our Airmen in a normal day. This experience taught me never to take my particular position or leadership role for granted. Whether I was "just a" staff sergeant, squadron superintendent, or now as a command chief; the potential to positively influence leave a lasting impression, through even the smallest gesture is an everyday reality.

Some people dedicate their entire life trying to become a rock star. The lieutenant became a rock star in two brief moments.

Bring credit and honor to the United States Air Force and take care of each other in all your actions.