Servant Leadership

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Emily Rautenberg
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

“Everyone should be on their best behavior,” Maj. Bart Murphy, C-17 Globemaster III pilot with the 732nd Airlift Squadron, told his crew during their preflight briefing. After all, Col. Thomas O. Pemberton, 514th Air Mobility Wing Commander, would be on board.

“Well that’s good,” Pemberton said. “Because I won’t be!”

Pemberton flew to Ramstein Air Base, Germany with the 732nd Airlift Squadron on December 14, 2018 as part of a joint mission with the 78th Air Refueling Squadron. Originally, he had planned to fly over on the KC-10 and return home on the C-17. Due to maintenance issues, however, he was not able to fly on the KC-10.

“I was trying to be as efficient as possible and fly with both crews in order to get to know as many people as I could in a short amount of time,” he said about selecting this particular trip.

Before flying home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Pemberton had a chance to meet with Lt. Col. Matthew McDaniel, KC-10 Extender pilot with the 78th Air Refueling Squadron. The commander apologized for being unable to fly with McDaniel’s crew. Pemberton also extended a hand to the other KC-10 pilot sitting with McDaniel, 1st Lt. Alex Retamozo. Pemberton introduced himself to Retamozo, never missing a chance to meet more of the people who make up the 514th Air Mobility Wing.

Pemberton even had a chance to work directly with the 732nd by piloting the C-17 for part of the trip. Seeing the crew in action, and being a part of it, was also important to the commander.

“These trips allow me to see and experience what all the crews are going through: aerial porters, loadmasters, pilots, what maintenance has to deal with,” he said. “There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle, and we’re all trying to work a common goal to get the airplane off the ground. Everyone has to come together to make it happen.”

Pemberton has now been the wing commander for almost six months. During his first six months, one of his top priorities was seeing how the wing operated.

“I needed to learn where we were working well and where we weren’t in order to see how I could help,” he said.

Additionally, he wanted to take the time to get to know his people, and for them to get to know him. Building those relationships and a foundation of trust is a key aspect to his leadership style.

“You can learn from your bad leaders as much as you can from the good ones,” he said. “The bad leaders I’ve known weren’t as engaged and didn’t get to know their people. They lost out, really. I think the more you engage with your people, the better your understanding and trust of one another becomes. The mission will succeed better when you allow your people to see you for who you are.”

“In the next six months, I’m going to try to attack the big rocks, like medical and finance. I also want to continue the priority of readiness. We need to make sure we’re ready for any fight,” Pemberton said.

One way the wing has been focusing on readiness training is through the “Ability to Survive and Operate Challenge.” The challenge is a creative and competitive way of getting Reserve Citizen Airmen the important survival training they need. The commander hopes that more of these creative ideas can be fostered in the wing.

“We have to have everybody from the youngest to the most senior members throwing out ideas in order to continue to improve. Some of our young Airmen have these amazing ideas, and we need to be able to listen to them, implement them, and acknowledge those Airmen for their great ideas.”

Creativity is incredibly important when a constant challenge of the Air Force Reserve is determining how to train members that are not on base full-time. After all, the majority of its members work for the military part-time. As a wing commander, Pemberton says this requires him to do more long-range planning.

“Because individuals aren’t here on a full-time basis, we need to think ahead,” he said. “We need to remember that an exercise might be planned for three months from now, but to a traditional reservist, that might only be six training days away.”

A lot of our members might have civilian jobs that are totally different than their military positions, Pemberton said. This means our reservists can bring entirely new perspectives and provide other talents to the wing.

Pemberton recognize the sacrifices the Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 514th make in order to be here: time away from their jobs, time away from their families, missing special events, etc. With that in mind, Pemberton constantly strives to be a servant leader to the wing.

The commander has a “lead from the front” attitude, which is why he can be seen running and working on his fitness during drill weekends, and why he attends various wing events like 5k’s, parades, and group outings.

“I am never going to ask anyone to do anything that I am not willing to do myself,” Pemberton said.