What’s your Target?

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ralph Oliver, 423rd Air Base Group senior enlisted leader

My first Air Force Specialty was 3E231, a Pavements and Construction Equipment Apprentice, better known as a Dirt Boyz. I chose this job after reading the duty description with the recruiter. At the time I thought operating heavy equipment sounded interesting. Plus the skills I would acquire could easily transfer to the civilian sector after my four year enlistment. Like most new Airmen, I was nervous and excited all at the same time about my new career choice. Technical training school was challenging and there was a lot to learn. The instructors really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Even with this I knew I made the right choice. This is where I set my first target of learning everything I could about my new career field.

After technical training school I arrived to my first base at RAF Lakenheath, U.K. Shortly after arriving I set several targets, such as completing my Career Development Course, becoming airfield qualified and getting signed off on multiple pieces of heavy equipment. These targets provided me the motivation to work hard and get better every day. I enjoyed operating heavy equipment working outside and building things. This job gave me a sense of accomplishment. As I checked targets off my list I would add more. This was a continuous process at each of my assignments. I eventually worked my way up to becoming a crew leader. My next target was becoming a shop foreman. However, the Air Force had different plans. In 2006, my name was on the mandatory retraining list. I did not want to retrain. I enjoyed being a Dirt Boyz. It was part of my identity, and the camaraderie and culture was second to none.

Once I finally accepted that I was no longer going to be a Dirt Boyz, I set a new target which was finding a new AFSC. I narrowed it down to contracting, safety and paralegal. Ultimately, I chose to become a paralegal and was optimistic about my new career path. I completed the Paralegal Apprentice Course at Maxwell AFB, AL, and headed to my first legal office at Altus AFB, OK. I had a bit of a rocky transition into the paralegal career field. Getting use to office work such as reading and writing takes some time. The job didn’t come to me as easy as operating equipment. I continued to, what I like to say as "going through the motions." I did not have a vector or target. To be honest I didn’t enjoy being a paralegal. I missed working outside and the sense of accomplishment after completing a large scale project. Pushing cases on the docket and other administrative tasks did not have the same appeal to me.

Things would change for me several years later when I relocated to Andersen, AFB, Guam. As the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Military Justice, I gave an office immersion briefing to the Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. John Doucette. After the briefing, he asked me what I wanted to do with my career. I did not have an answer because I did not know. Talk about a great first impression. His question stuck with me over the next several weeks and helped put things into perspective. For the first time in my career I was someone who didn’t have a target and combined with my poor attitude I had become stagnant. I was so focused on the past I wasn’t thinking about the present or the future. I knew something had to change. So I began to set targets just as I did earlier in my career. I focused on developing my skills as a paralegal and as a supervisor. I began working with the Judge Advocates on case preparation and strategy. For the first time as a paralegal I felt like I was contributing toward the mission. I was no longer going through the motions. This simple adjustment helped me course correct and opportunities began to come my way, in and out of the career-field, and I took full advantage. To this day I continue to set targets and challenge myself to continue to grow. I believe you should never stop setting targets. There is something each of us can improve whether it’s in our professional or personal life. I’m not sure if Brig. Gen. Doucette knew how much of an impact his question had on me. Although a very simple question, it was what TSgt. Oliver needed at the time. One thing I know for sure, is I am not where I am today without this moment of leadership engagement. To quote the actor Idris Elba, “If you don’t know your target you will never get there.” In your career you will have many twists and turns but the key to moving forward is knowing what your target is.