Senior leaders converge at Tyndall to ‘sharpen the spear’

By Angela Pope | March 01, 2011

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - When an organization has as many moving parts as Tyndall’s Component Numbered Air Force does, keeping those parts running smoothly takes a certain amount of finesse. And because most of those parts are scattered throughout the United States, smooth operation is even trickier.

So to keep the parts running smoothly, once a year the commander of the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region-1st Air Force and Air Forces Northern brings together key leaders of the many organizations that form CONR-1st AF (AFNORTH) for the annual 1st AF Commander’s Conference. Each year, topics of discussion range from defense support of civil authorities to the organization’s partnership with Mexico and Canada as it relates to dealing with emerging threats.

This year, as America nears the decade mark since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the discussions focused on CONR-1st AF’s air sovereignty alert mission and Operation Noble Eagle, the command’s response to the attacks, which aim to protect the country from another aerial attack.

“Our organization is charged with a significant, distinctive and no-fail mission,” said Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, CONR-1st AF (AFNORTH) commander. “Getting our commanders and enlisted leaders together is vital in ensuring our continued success.”

During the two-day conference, which had an overall theme of “Homeland Counterair: Sharpening the Spear,” attendees tackled issues such as aviation threats, modernization and ASA standardization. But perhaps the highlight of the conference came at the end of day two when three men who figured prominently in the shaping of 1st AF took the floor for the Senior Statesmen Panel.

The panel featured Lt. Gen. (retired) Daniel James III, former director of the Air National Guard; Maj. Gen. (retired) Larry Arnold, 1st AF commander on Sept. 11, 2001; and Maj. Gen. (retired) Philip Killey, former 1st AF commander and namesake of the Killey Center for Homeland Operations where 1st AF is housed.

The generals conducted the panel with the intent of passing on their experiences, lessons learned, professional challenges and successes to the leaders presently in charge of defending America’s skies.

“It is my responsibility to be here to discuss these issues,” General Killey said. “Any former leader’s responsibility is to do whatever they can to ensure the people currently in the mission learn from the past so we don’t repeat the mistakes – so we can get ahead of that. We need to be proactive to the challenges 1st AF faces in this country. By talking through these things, perhaps you as leaders will understand our thought processes back then and apply those experiences in the future.”

Aside from commanders, 28 enlisted leaders from within the organization also attended the conference. While the chief master sergeants and first sergeants spent most of the conference participating in the same segments as the commanders, they were treated to a separate breakout of their own.

Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Thornell, CONR-1st AF command chief, and Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Fredrickson, 1st AF first sergeant, led the breakout session, which had a theme of “Leading with Strength and Knowledge … Today and Into the Future.”

“Enlisted leaders face a challenge that is uniquely different from that of their commanders,” Chief Thornell said. “We seized this opportunity to talk face-to-face with them and help them find ways to better lead and mentor their Airmen who form the backbone of our imperative mission.”

Like any conference, the benefits here extended far beyond the material presented. Leaders also had a chance to network, socialize and share notes.

“The ability to cross talk, compare stories and develop relationships is 90 percent of the benefit of this conference,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson, commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C., which is the busiest ASA unit in the country. “The conference also gives us a chance to step away from our day-to-day mission. Our current operations tempo is like a hurricane. If you’re not careful, you get swept up, and the hurricane prevents you from thinking about the future. Being here lets us escape the hurricane and look at the long-range picture.”

Approximately 100 commanders and chiefs attended the conference. Afterward, several of the participants attended CONR-1st AF’s annual award banquet to cheer on their superb performers.

“This year’s conference was an absolute success,” General Dean said. “I have received nothing but compliments from everyone who attended, saying that this conference was the ‘best seen to date.’ Now the hope is that our commanders will take the lessons learned here and apply them to their missions at home.”