Choose to serve, buy in and lead

buy in lead serve

Col. Hewett Wells, 50th Network Operations Group commander.


One of the U.S. Air Force’s strengths is the diversity of our personnel. We come from many places with varying backgrounds and experiences. We joined the Air Force for various reasons; perhaps the opportunity to travel, to get an education, or to be a pilot, to serve.


But did we know what it meant to serve when we joined?


I didn’t. But I chose to serve, I bought into the Air Force culture, and I’ve taken opportunities to lead.


I didn’t have a grand plan for life after high school. I knew I wanted to continue playing sports and pursued college football.


Growing up in Nebraska, it was all about the Cornhuskers; the glory days of Tom Osborne. But I knew I didn’t have the size, speed, or talent for Division I football. Instead, I walked on at the University of South Dakota; Division II, North Central Conference. My buddy’s brother had played at USD and it was far enough from home, but not too far. I completed my years of eligibility, but didn’t have a plan following college.


Fortunately, I was on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a math minor. I visited an Air Force recruiter while in my last semester of college and applied for Officer Training School; I had played sports, often a team captain, had done well in school, probably not as well as I could have and had some work experience. It took me a year to get down to Air Force weight standards and to be accepted for OTS.


I was off to Maxwell AFB, Alabama. I didn’t know what I was headed into but I had a solid foundation to build on. But why did I choose to join? Choose to serve? I wanted to be part of something that was bigger than myself; that’s what others had said. I spoke the words, but did I really know what that meant? Probably not. But I bought into the Air Force culture pretty quickly.


I learned a lot at OTS and I changed a lot in those first three months. It came pretty natural to me and built on the solid foundation I had. Once commissioned, I was off to my first duty assignment and soon after Basic Communications Officer Training. Then my second assignment; flight commander and promotion to Captain. More education at Squadron Officer’s School and I started pursuing a Master’s degree at night and on weekends.


I bought into the institution, learning along the way; formal training, on the job and on my own. I did the best I could at my job and I took on opportunities to volunteer, to learn, to take on additional duties and to lead. More challenging assignments followed as did many more opportunities; U.S. Air Forces Europe staff, more professional military education, the Pentagon and squadron command. I was often challenged to stretch beyond my current capabilities. With each opportunity my perspective changed, my understanding grew and what it meant to serve evolved. Through it all, I continued to study and learn what it meant to lead.


Leadership at every level is a concept introduced by my wing commander at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea; home of the Wolfpack. This concept resonated with me and has been one I try to live by and one I’ve shared with others.


The DoD is a large bureaucracy, built on hierarchy and rank; it needs to be. But leadership goes beyond a duty title, a rank, or a block on an organization chart. We can all be leaders; we must be leaders; leaders at whatever level we’re assigned. But what does that mean?


For me, leadership is based on fundamental characteristics an individual embodies. Serving with integrity; an absolute must. Taking pride and ownership in whatever you’re given to do. Being responsible. Taking the initiative and making improvements. Holding yourself to a high standard (excellence in all we do). Being accountable. Holding others accountable to those same high standards. Knowing it’s not about you; it’s about the mission and the people; the greatest Airmen in the world. Service before self. Fundamental characteristics we all can embody and live by. Words that have deep meaning to me and have grown in meaning the longer I serve. I’m still learning, still growing and still working to be the best Airman I can be.


I recommend you occasionally pause and reflect on why you serve. I encourage you to continue to learn, grow and develop; to be the best Airman you can be. I challenge you to be a leader at whatever you’re doing. The Air Force needs leaders at every level.