Inside the mind of the 1st Special Operations Wing commander

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. William Banton
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Col. James Slife, 1st Special Operations Wing commander, sits at the end of the wing conference room table Aug. 19 in front of a wall decorated with historical photos.

He has been sitting with the local press for more than 30 minutes discussing his views on leadership and being a member of a unique community.

"So this guy right here I personally knew," Slife said, as he pointed to one of the photos on the wall. "I knew the Son Tay raiders; the people who went to rescue [prisoners of war] in Vietnam outside of Hanoi in November 1970."

Slife isn't speaking about the founding fathers of AFSOC just to brag; he's making a point. As he said when he took charge June 29, "Many people read their history, In AFSOC we know ours."

The 1st SOW commander has worked the majority of his military career as a member of AFSOC.

"There are these subcultures within our overall Air Commando culture, and I am a product of my own culture I grew up in," Slife said, referencing his start in the early 1990s as an MH-53J Pave Low helicopter pilot.

"We trained to fly helicopters down into opposed landing zones with bullets hitting the side of the airplane while you're shooting back at the enemy," Slife said. "It's kind of an in-your-face mission, so I think my leadership style can sometimes be a little bit forthright."

A large part of the commander's focus is on supporting Airmen through the development of a force that will eventually take over future leadership positions.

"I invest a lot of personal time into mentoring and force development so that we are preparing ourselves for the future," Slife said.

Another guiding leadership principle for the commander is to put the Airmen's mission first by recognizing that he as a wing commander is there to remove obstacles to their mission.

"The Airmen who are actually fixing the airplanes, the Airmen who are actually paving the roads, the Airmen who are actually flying the planes have a mission," Slife said. "Our most fundamental contribution to the mission is taking the rocks out of the rucksacks of the Airmen who are actually out there doing the work. If they need new tools to help them maintain the airplanes, it's my problem to go find the resources to buy new tools for them."

The conversation ends and the photo he pointed to, one of the founding fathers of AFSOC, still sits in its place of honor.

He never identified the man in the photo. The man's identity was never Slife's point. After all, as he said, "Our motto is to try to be quiet professionals."