FALLS CHURCH, Va. — The Air Force Surgeon General’s annual Senior Leadership Workshop began December 7 with more than 500 Air Force Medical Service leaders attending virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The all-virtual platform, a first for the Air Force Medical Service, enabled leaders to discuss various topics such as COVID-19, diversity and inclusion, Military Health System transformation, and readiness.
The first day’s theme focused on principles of effective leadership as the AFMS balances its readiness mission with the ongoing pandemic. Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, Air Force Surgeon General, recognized how well Air Force medics quickly stepped up to ensure the operational and patient-care missions continued.
“We can’t always wait for someone to tell us where we are going. Our ability to change, persevere and adapt in the situations we have faced this year has been very important,” said Hogg. “We must always lead through the chaos.”
Chief Master Sgt. Dawn Kolczynski, Chief, Medical Enlisted Force and Enlisted Corps Chief, highlighted accomplishments by Airmen from diverse medical fields in response to the pandemic.
“Our [epidemiology] lab at [U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine] processed thousands of potential COVID samples that were sent in from our military treatment facilities around the world, and our pharmacy teams implemented drive-up pharmacies,” said Kolczynski. “We have seen a lot of courageous leadership across the AFMS this year.”
Kolczynski also recognized how this year challenged not only leadership priorities, but also challenged individual Airmen as many had to adjust working from home, deal with children’s virtual school, learn new processes at work, wear personal protective equipment for hours on end, or leave family to deploy to COVID-19 epicenters across the country.
“As leaders, you had to lead differently this year,” said Kolczynski. “You had to stop and recognize when it was okay to take a knee. In reality, we needed that for the long game. As we head into 2021, the fight against COVID-19 is not over and we need our Airmen ready.”
Despite 2020’s pandemic challenges, Hogg continued leading congressionally mandated reforms and other Air Force initiatives.
The Surgeon General’s military treatment facility transition team provided direct support to MTFs while working hand-in-hand with the Defense Health Agency to transfer management of applicable patient care functions.
Additionally, the Air Force continued implementing its Medical Reform Model, which began as a pilot program at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, restructuring squadrons to better focus on readiness and the health benefit. Brig. Gen. Susan Pietrykowski, Director, Manpower, Resources and Personnel, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General, discussed how the change enabled improved oversight of Airmen health and squadron readiness, while codifying intentional medical updates between commanders and medical providers.
The workshop’s first day also featured several guest speakers who spoke about their leadership experiences.
Former Boston Police Chief, Daniel Linskey, discussed his lessons learned and what prepared him during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, stressing the importance of “training like we fight, and fighting like we train.”
Another guest speaker, Kitara Johnson, a member of the Washington State Supreme Court’s Minority and Justice Commission, spoke about the importance of leading with inclusivity and cultural competency.
AFMS senior leaders also participated in a “Courageous Leadership” panel discussing their motivation for joining the Air Force and what shapes their leadership style. Led by Col. Alfred Flowers, Command Surgeon, U.S. Space Force, the panelists spoke about the importance of attitude, transparency, trust in your team, and providing support to fellow Airmen.
Hogg and Kolczynski took the time recognize Senior Airman Colleen Mitchell, an aerospace medical technician recognized for her role in saving lives during an Al Shabab militant attack at Manda Bay, Kenya in January. Mitchell shared the importance of trust and how she took on the role of lead medic, triaging and treating patients.
“Training is important, training with a team is essential, but training with a team you trust is irreplaceable,” said Mitchell.
The first day closed with Hogg highlighting several important leadership points.
“Grow relationships with your team and have those tough conversations when they are needed. Remove barriers and empower your people to make decisions and take ownership. We may have stumbles along the way, but we will learn from all of it,” said Hogg. “You don’t have to have a title to be a leader, we’re all leaders.”
(Ms. Lindsay Mahon contributed to this article)