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New program designed to mentor Airmen

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The 7th Bomb Wing command chief started a new program in February that gives senior airmen and below an opportunity to see what a command chief does for a day and receive mentoring at the same time.

It’s called the Chief Shadow Program, and it’s for Airmen who have been hand-selected by their group chiefs.

“I don’t want the enlisted force to feel there’s a disconnect between the E-1s and chief master sergeants, because there’s not,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Paul Wheeler, 7th BW command chief. “We’re all enlisted. By allowing a young troop to see what I do for a day, they get to see how things function on a different level of leadership in the Air Force. Most Airmen get to see it through first-line supervisors who are taking care of business, or maybe a squadron commander, every now and then. But they don’t get to see what a wing command chief does, so I thought it would give them a great opportunity for them to see what I do for a day.”

He tries to take a shadow every three to four weeks, he said. So far, two Airmen have shadowed Chief Wheeler, and another is scheduled to shadow him Monday.

“It’s my way of mentoring troops,” Chief Wheeler said. “And it’s been fun. Not only do I give them something, but they give me something. The whole day, we talk together, and I get to hear the grass-roots issues and views around me. That means a lot to me. They’re the ones that have to live with the decisions we make. They’re the future of the Air Force.”

He said the Airmen who shadow him get to go to meetings with the Chief’s Group, present awards, work out, show him their own work places and introduce him to their co-workers, as well as many other things. Some days with the chief have run from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“I was really impressed with the Chief’s Group in that they really care about the enlisted Airmen at Dyess,” said Airman 1st Class Jeremiah Gray, 7th Operations Group personnel apprentice, who was the chief ’s first shadow. “Most of their discussions or topics had a basis to somehow benefit the enlisted folks at Dyess. I also realized
that chiefs are regular people -- just more educated and experienced. It is good to know that the enlisted folks at Dyess are in the hands of chiefs who care for our well-being.”

Enlisted troops across the board are interested in seeing what’s going on in the Air Force, where the Air Force is going to take them, and what’s available, Chief Wheeler said.

“No matter what their career field, they want to know what’s going on in the rest of the force so they can make good decisions about their careers,” he said.

He added that the shadow program is easy to do, not time-consuming, and he gains as much from it as they do.

“I don’t like people who live in a vacuum,” Chief Wheeler said. “The more information I gather, the better a command chief I can be.”

The program is designed to be inspirational and boost morale as well.

“If you’d told me when I was an Airman that I would become a chief some day, I would have said, ‘Whatever,’” Chief Wheeler said. “So, if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

“Overall, I had an awesome experience shadowing Chief Wheeler,” Airman Gray said. “I learned many things, and I was able to see his everyday work schedule and the responsibilities that come with being a command chief. It is not like some people think, that a higher up just sits on his butt all day and watches time go by. We were constantly on the go, from one thing to the next. We hardly had any time at the office -- maybe 45 minutes the whole day, in 10- to 15-minute increments.”

He said he really got to see that earning the rank of chief master sergeant is possible. “You reap what you sow,” Airman Gray said. “If you work hard, you will see the benefits of your work. I believe that to be a good leader of any kind requires a person to lead and live by example. After my experience, I can say that Chief Wheeler meets those requirements.”