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Wisdom of the ages

Retired Lt. Gen. Bruce K. Brown answers questions during a mentoring session held for Airmen and civilians at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 9, 2016. Three retired generals and a retired chief master sergeant were present to share their collective 134 years of experience and service with members of Team Pete. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)

Retired Lt. Gen. Bruce K. Brown answers questions during a mentoring session held for Airmen and civilians at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 9, 2016. Three retired generals and a retired chief master sergeant were present to share their collective 134 years of experience and service with members of Team Pete. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)

Members of Team Pete absorb advice from a panel of retired generals and a retired chief master sergeant during a mentoring session held at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 9, 2016. Gen. Charles A. Horner, Lt. Gen. Bruce K. Brown, Maj. Gen. G. Wesley Clark and Chief Master Sgt. Charles P. Zimkas, Jr. used their 134 years of combined service and experience to offer advice on leadership, lessons learned and how to succeed in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)

Members of Team Pete absorb advice from a panel of retired generals and a retired chief master sergeant during a mentoring session held at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 9, 2016. Gen. Charles A. Horner, Lt. Gen. Bruce K. Brown, Maj. Gen. G. Wesley Clark and Chief Master Sgt. Charles P. Zimkas, Jr. used their 134 years of combined service and experience to offer advice on leadership, lessons learned and how to succeed in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Members of Team Pete were afforded the opportunity Sept. 9 to speak with a decorated group of former space leaders.

Retired Gen. Charles A. Horner, Lt. Gen. Bruce K. Brown, Maj. Gen. G. Wesley Clark and Chief Master Sgt. Charles P. Zimkas, Jr. total 134 years of service and experience collectively. The men volunteered their time to meet with Airmen and civilians across the base to provide a rare mentoring opportunity.

“You do not get a lot of opportunities to speak with leaders of this caliber,” said Master Sgt. Gerald Morey, 21st Comptroller Squadron and Wing Staff Agency first sergeant. “There is so much we can learn from them.”

Three sessions were held to allow peer groups the opportunity to address the panel members directly. Even with vast differences in experiences and time in service, similar questions came up at each session.


What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in how the Air Force operates?

“One of the biggest changes is the rise of the role of the NCO,” said Brown. “There have been increases in responsibility and leadership that 40 years ago they just didn’t have. We understand now that NCO’s are capable of more challenges and more responsibilities, and they’ve earned it.”

“The reason we have NCOs is to enforce discipline in the force,” said Horner. “If we don’t have discipline we don’t have a military, but sometimes you (have to bend the rules to) get the mission done. The NCO core are the ones who make that decision to throw out the rulebook and accept the possible consequences. Know what you’re supposed to do and do it. Know your role.”


What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?

“I once had a senior enlisted advisor, I can’t remember what I did but his comment to me was ‘Did that pass the common sense test?’” said Zimkas. “I said ‘No sir, it does not,’ and he said ‘Then why are we doing it?’ I can tell you from that point on he never had to give me another lesson in common sense.”


What do you think is the best leadership style?

“Each of you are leaders. Your styles are going to be different,” said Horner. “Be yourself always. If you’re , be . People will get used to it. If you’re a nice person, be a nice person. I cannot stand working for a chief or officer who one day is a good guy and the next . Be consistent, be yourself, don’t worry about anything else. Just be the best you can. If you made a mistake, admit you made a mistake.”

“It’s not the mistake that matters, but the recovery,” Brown added.


How do we succeed in the military as followers and leaders?

“You’ve been trained by leaders; you have good examples,” said Clark. “Trust your instincts. If your judgment is wrong, too many times you’re not going to go far. If you’re right, you’ll get pushed along and it all works out.”

“Enjoy what you do,” said Brown. “The key to happiness is finding something you’d do for free then trick some dumb son of a [gun] into paying you for it. That’s what I did.”

“You keep your eyes on the job,” said Horner. “Keep your eyes on the mission, on being fair to everyone even if you don’t like them and you’ll be just fine.”

Horner added a final anecdote about a time when President Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked what the most important thing he looked for in a leader was, to which Eisenhower simply replied “Courage.”

Editor’s note: Some comments have been adjusted to for content and clarity and to adhere to AFI guidelines.

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