DELAWARE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. --
Command Sergeant Major Christopher Kepner, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chief, National Guard Bureau visited the Delaware Air National Guard, March 1, 2019 at the New Castle Air National Guard Base, Del.
During his visit, Kepner toured the base, its facilities and connected with Airmen. Several Airmen joined Kepner for lunch, during which he imparted his wealth of knowledge and personal experience, replete with anecdotes and humor.
“Meeting and having lunch with CSM Kepner was a wonderful experience,” said SrA Erin Cramer, Accounting Liaison Officer, 166th Comptroller Flight. “We had the opportunity to pick his brain and ask questions regarding health care, education benefits and mentorship, in which he provided sound advice and interesting stories filled with laughter and motivation. It was a pleasure meeting him and we look forward to seeing him again.”
The 166th AW/PA was later given the opportunity to conduct an in-depth interview with Kepner.
166th AW/PA: “Could you elaborate on your commitment to the mentorship of our younger Airmen?”
CSM Kepner: “I gotta tell you something. I joined the Army when I was seventeen, had very little direction, and I made some really knuckleheaded decisions early on in my career – I was very immature. And so, what I try to do when I’m talking to our young Airmen or our young soldiers [is that] I believe those mistakes allow me to be real and allow me to relate to them. I think it’s important for them to understand that when you’re first starting out in your career it’s OK to not know exactly what you want to do, it’s OK to change your mind and I think I’m kind of an example of that. I mean, look where I’m at right now. I was on active duty, I got off active duty, I came back on to active duty, and then I joined the Guard. I think one of the most positive things I can provide them are those experiences and then my perspective now looking back on it. So, the other very important thing I try to convey is that those “knuckleheaded” moments are very, very important. When I talk about them, it’s so people can understand that, “Hey, it’s OK to make a mistake,” and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a career-ender. So, don’t quit on us just because you make a mistake.”
166th AW/PA: “What is your vision for the Guard in the future?”
CSM Kepner: “That is a great question. Let me tie this to the pre-9/11 days. When we think about the Guard before 9/11, we were not resourced for medical readiness. Nobody ever thought we would go anywhere. We were given older equipment. And then 9/11 happened and we’ve been continuously deployed down range. We are at a higher level of readiness than we have ever been. And our Guard collectively is much better after fifteen years of war than we were before 9/11.
When I think about the future of the Guard, I think we are in the space where we have to sustain this higher level of readiness. So when I think about the future of the Guard, I kinda link that to the past from the perspective of, “Man that’s not who we want to go back to being again.” And the only way we can be at this higher level of readiness is to continue to contribute to the national defense strategy, both here and abroad. And I think, quite frankly, that our young men and women are ready to do it. Invariably, when I talk to our young men and women – and I’m saying this anecdotally – their main concern is that we’re going to stop deploying. They joined to go down range; they joined to do their jobs overseas. In order to stay relevant, we have to contribute to the active duty Army and the active duty Air Force.”
166th AW/PA: “What can we learn from those members outside Delaware; and what do you think we’re doing “right” that others could benefit by hearing our story?”
CSM Kepner: “You have to remember that when I visit units, my point of reference is about 24 to 48 hours. So I really don’t get down to the processes and procedures at the organizational level to be able to compare them.
I will also say that it’s very difficult to define good leadership, but you know it when you see it in a unit. It’s about interactions with the soldiers and the Airmen. That’s how I get a feel for how things are going in an organization. You can let chief Horay know that I got a very, very good feel from Delaware after talking with the soldiers and the Airmen. They were very engaging while I was there.
And the other thing I always get a feel for a unit is when I have one-on-ones with the junior enlisted. If the junior enlisted are asking me questions on how to fix tactical-level problems, that’s an indicator to me.”
166th AW/PA: “That sort of ties in with what you said earlier about the younger Airmen and soldiers looking at things from a more global, or systems-oriented perspective.”
CSM Kepner “And I’ll leave you with this while we’re kinda talking about it. I am absolutely sanguine about the future of the military because of the young men and women who are joining today. Some people complain and say that this generation frustrates them. I don’t feel frustrated by them at all. I think the future of the military is in fantastic hands. I am comfortable when I have to retire and step away from this that whoever takes my place will be taking the military forward and making it an even better institution than it is right now. I am absolutely comfortable with that.”
166th AW/PA: “As your visits with Airmen and Soldiers carry you around the 54 and across the globe, what characteristics of our younger warfighters really capture your attention and admiration?”
CSM Kepner: “You know, that is another great question. And I’ll tell you, the primary characteristic I see – and I’m comparing this to my experience – the main characteristic I find is fundamentally different is that this generation – is that they have specific goals in mind of things they want to accomplish and things they want to do in their future. It’s fundamentally different from me when I was their age. Looking at the future was like next Saturday to me. They are very curious about how they connect to the bigger picture. That’s what really impresses me the most about them. Looking at the future, having specific goals and then having a thirst to understand how what they’re doing is relevant.”
166th AW/PA: “When you retire, what will you be doing (hunt, fish, travel, etc.)?”
CSM Kepner: “Ha! I’ve gotta tell you something. When I retire, I’ve got about 30 acres in rural Pennsylvania. I’m gonna have a saw mill. I’m gonna cut trees. I’m going to do custom sawmilling, make firewood, and raise beef and sheep. And I’ll sleep every night in the bed in my home with Mrs. Kepner who’s been waiting almost thirty years for that to happen. And I’m kind of OK with that. No employees in my company, just going to be me. I think the thing I’m looking forward to most about retirement is the flexibility I will have to determine my own schedule. Because in these jobs, you have very little control over your calendar. I’ll hunt when I want to, and make boards. I am very handy around the house. I’ll have to build the structure my saw mill will go into. There’s a lot of fencing I’ll have to run. We have to build a barn. So there’s a lot of that kind of work, which I’m really looking forward to.”