LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
With a combined 88 years of Air Force service, three Laughlin leaders have learned the value of taking care of each other, balancing career and personal life, and understanding the value of life itself.
Lt. Col. Britt Warren, 47th Operations Support Squadron commander, joined the Air Force with the understanding he was going to be a fighter pilot — a job where it’s important to be tough, thick-skinned yet sensitive enough to be receptive to feedback.
Earning his commission though Reserve Officers’ Training Corps more than 20 years ago, he wasn’t expected to know everything. However, Warren knew early on in his career he had to surround himself with mentors who could advise him—pat him on the back when things went well and light a fire underneath him when things weren’t going well.
Becoming a fighter pilot, Warren quickly realized life is filled with responsibility, direct communication and real world consequences. A phrase to resonate with Warren is, “don’t compromise your character to fit in.”
He discovered how Hollywood’s silver-screen persona portrayed pilots in the military—especially in iconic movies like Top Gun—as not being completely realistic.
“I thought everyone [in the military] drove sports cars, rode motorcycles and partied all night,” Warren said. “I quickly learned they were married with kids, had a mortgage and a minivan. The idea of partying all night and acting the fool was actually frowned upon.”
Chief Master Sgt. Jodi Epps, 47th Operations Group superintendent, struggled with the demands of military responsibility, but realized adaptation takes time. For 23 years, she persevered to find the right balance between time at home and time at work.
“There were times when I wished I had a different job or could PCS [permanent change of station] to a different duty location,” said Epps. “It is sometimes difficult to do, but we need to focus on the here and now. If we focus too much on what we desire for the future, we lose sight of the present and the needs of our wingmen right next to us. If you grow where you are planted you will create a stronger root system needed when you do move to a different job or PCS to a new duty location.”
Similar to Warren, Epps related having asked her mentors many questions as an Airman. Some of the advice that impacted her through her Air Force journey was to be credible, genuine, humble, self-aware, and open to feedback.
“Don’t rush it—learn it,” said Epps. “It is important to crawl before we run, we need to learn basic concepts before we can accomplish complex tasks. I wanted to do everything right away, but I needed to understand what I was doing first.”
Like Epps, Danny Williams, 47th Operations Group director of academics and simulations, agreed that Airman need to walk before they run.
“For the most part, I have been engaged with and surrounded by people who know their jobs and work hard and learn lots so they can do their job well,” said Williams. “Learn your mission and your part in that mission.”
Working for the Air Force since 1973, Williams described one of the challenges for him at his first duty station was learning the mission of his base and what he had to do to become a productive member of his team.
“We took people and cargo to all corners of the world,” Williams said. “I was a little bit nervous about that because I didn’t have the full picture in front of me.”
Williams considers his faith, his country and his family to be his priorities. He encourages Airmen to think about the things they value.
“Every day you wake up, do everything you can to maximize your potential and use that potential for the betterment of the military, your job, your family and the country,” Williams said.
One thing these leaders have in common during their career is recognizing the idea the Air Force is an extended family. This is advice they were given or wished they had been given as Airmen new to the military. Warren noticed the family-like atmosphere he experienced among those he worked alongside. He remembers numerous times where his unit came together to care for his family, and he harped on the importance of reaching out to others.
“A lot of people join just because they’re looking for something better than the situation they came from,” Warren said. “If just one person will reach out to them and be nice to them, it means all the difference in the world.”