Taking care of Airmen is senior enlisted advisor’s focus

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
The installation's newest senior enlisted advisor is focused on making sure Airmen understand where they fit into the organization through effective feedback from supervisors.

Chief Master Sgt. Craig A. Poling, 66th Air Base Group superintendent and installation senior enlisted advisor, who began his career in 1987 in the communications career field as a computer systems apprentice, was eager to do great things.

Although it wasn't chief master sergeant the young staff sergeant aspired to become; originally he aspired to enter the officer ranks as a physician.

"My goals have changed through my career," said Chief Poling. "Early in my career I took pre-med classes and my goal was to complete college and become an officer. I was even accepted into the ROTC program at Ohio State University, however, I couldn't pass the hearing test - so that plan was quickly derailed."

Through the years as the ranks continued to come and years passed, Poling has enjoyed what he has done.

"I was probably a little disappointed at first for failing my hearing test," he said. "But had that not happened, I would not have met my current wife."

Poling's wife, Senior Master Sgt. Stephanie Poling, whom he met in 1998, is currently the superintendent of the 5th Communications Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. She is scheduled to arrive here this summer once their three sons complete the school year. The chief was last assigned at Minot as the 5th Mission Support Group Superintendent before coming to Hanscom.

Poling credits two mentors early in his career for teaching him to be a professional Airman.

"My first supervisor, Buck Sgt. Mark Woods, was absolutely the hardest-working guy I have ever worked with in the Air Force and knew the business better than anyone," he said. "He taught me a lot about the communications career field and the value of hard work."

Later, it was a chief he worked for that got him thinking about attaining the enlisted force's most senior enlisted rank.

"Retired Chief Bob Ritter was an outstanding chief who reinvigorated my career and made me want to become a chief myself," he said. "At this point I was a year removed from a divorce and was struggling through it."

After looking at his records, the senior mentor realized that Poling was performing at less than what he was capable of.

"The chief looked at my records and sat me down one-on-one and said, 'you had this steep upward trajectory and you have flat-lined,'" Poling said. "He asked what changed from being a Levitow Award winner and other major awards that were listed in my records."

After describing what was happening in his personal life, Ritter set goals for then-Master Sgt. Poling to achieve and promised to help get him back on the right track if he met them.

"He motivated me to reach the goals he set for me and he stayed completely engaged the entire time," Poling said.

This taught Poling that taking the time to know your Airmen and giving them honest feedback is critical. He realized Ritter could have written him off as an average Airman and moved on, but he didn't and Poling knows he wouldn't be where he is without that intervention.

"It's important that when supervisors meet with their subordinates, they provide honest feedback," said Poling. "Don't just tell them they are doing a good job and to keep up the good work. Being the nice guy at feedback time is not going to work; even your top performers need to know where they need to improve."

A lesson he learned from Ritter: "If they're not number one, tell them they're not number one - but tell them what they need to do to get there."

It's this passion to lead Airmen that keeps Poling in the Air Force.

"If I can make a similar impact on even one person's career, then I feel I have truly accomplished something to make the Air Force better."

Early on, the chief is also focused on helping Airmen here understand what Hanscom's mission is and how they contribute to it.

"I want to help Airmen here understand the impact they, as well as this base, have on the weapon systems that are used down range," Poling said. "I want to help that finance airman understand how he or she fits into the big Air Force picture."

This extends beyond the enlisted corps as well.

"Chiefs should be mentoring junior officers as well," he said. "Most junior officers have enlisted that work for them so we need to help them learn how to lead enlisted Airmen in accomplishing their goals, which will help everyone achieve the mission."

Chief Poling reflects back on the early days of his career and doesn't remember a chief being a presence - something he is determined not to have happen during his tenure here.

"If I'm always sitting at my desk I'm not doing my job," he said. "I want to make sure I am out there in the organizations talking to Airmen about what's going on in their life."

Among the other early items high on the chief's list here at Hanscom: finding healthier dining options for Airmen living in the dorms, standardizing the awards program and improving the feedback program.

When discussing the Force Management programs facing enlisted personnel this year, the chief stressed again the importance of supervisors to provide honest feedback to their Airmen.

"We can't surprise them on an Airmen retention form that we're filling out right now," he said. "If you have five staff sergeants working for you, you have to mark which one is one of five and which one is five of five. And that five of five better know why he is so."

He went on to stress that supervisors need to provide Airmen the opportunity to improve.
"We want to make sure we're promoting the right ones."

Poling said that Airmen with 12 to 13 years in the Air Force, even those who have served their country on multiple deployments, are at risk to potential Force Management initiatives.

"We need to make sure we are taking care of those Airmen," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but they deserve our full support."