Lessons From the Past Guide Future Air Force Leaders
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
It’s a sludgy, post-lunch Monday afternoon inside a classroom full of young airmen. But instead of dozing off in the corner from food comas, each troop is sitting at the edge of their seat listening attentively as a man sporting a Denver Broncos polo, a leather jacket and a handlebar mustache reminisces on his memories of war.
Inside the Airman Leadership School here, future noncommissioned officers and leaders of the Air Force learn of the sacrifices a group of veterans made.
Robert Schilling, a former airman and gunner on the AC-47 “Spooky” aircraft, told stories about his experiences as an enlisted troop deployed to Vietnam and shared some wisdom about leadership.
“Leadership is hard to define,” Schilling said. “A lot of people say that some people are born leaders, and others say some are trained leaders.”
One example he uses to describe leadership is former crewmate Airman 1st Class John Levitow -- a Medal of Honor recipient. After being hit by mortar fire over Vietnam, Levitow saved his crew by throwing himself on a flare which would have ignited the ammunition in the aircraft. After gaining control of the canister, Levitow ran to the back of the plane and threw the flare out right before it ignited.
“I can speak on behalf of John and what he did for us,” Schilling said. “Hopefully, it will sink-in with these new kids.”
Learning From History
Schilling works at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum and is a member of the Black Hills Veterans Writers Group, a nonprofit organization that keeps stories of war alive. The group of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans meets on the second Saturday of each month inside the museum to tell their stories and listen to others’.
The Airman Leadership School and the BHVWG have been working together to help instruct the next generation of airmen. A speaker from the writers group comes to speak to each class of graduates, reaching more than 300 students a year.
“They come in to speak to the classes and provide a different aspect of leadership,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Davis, the ALS commandant. “Here at ALS, we really want to make sure heritage is emphasized, because it’s very important. Every generation needs to know how they fit in, and heritage puts that into perspective.”
Davis has served as the commandant at ALS for a year, and he says the speakers from the writers group contribute immensely to the development of these new Air Force leaders.
“The students really enjoy hearing a different perspective,” Davis said. “They’re not being told how to lead; they’re hearing stories of good leadership and there is a big difference.”
Schilling and Davis agree that good leadership is the key for success.
“Leadership is a matter of importance,” Schilling said. “If you don’t have it, you better find someone who does.”