By Senior Airman John E. Hillier, Air National Guard Readiness Center Public Affairs
/ Published December 22, 2014
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Maryland -- Stretching from the town of North Pole, Alaska, to the South Pole in Antarctica, the Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Air National Guard recently returned from a three-week journey to visit Airmen at ANG units in Alaska, Hawaii and Antarctica.
Chief Master Sgt. James W. Hotaling embarked on the tour Oct. 31 through Nov. 22 to meet with Airmen where they live and work, and foster direct communication with them about important issues in the ANG as well as answer Airmen's questions and concerns.
Developing face-to-face relationships and having direct communication with Airmen is the core of the trips like this one, both for Hotaling, and for the Airmen he meets. In addition to ensuring Airmen had a chance to get answers to their questions, Hotaling talked with them about what he calls his "Aim Points," the three focus areas he addresses within the enlisted force. They are: renewing a commitment to the profession of arms, the health of the force, and recognizing and embracing accomplishments.
As the ANG Command Chief, Hotaling is responsible for matters influencing the health, morale and welfare of assigned enlisted personnel and their families. To accomplish that mission, he spends roughly 190 days per year on the road with Airmen at ANG wings and events throughout the country.
"This was a significant difference from our normal template," said Hotaling. "When we normally visit an Air National Guard wing, it's a very quick trip - about 30 hours on the ground, really. The advantage we got from doing it this way is that it allowed us to slow everything down. It allowed me to see more things and interact with more Airmen."
Hotaling's first stop on the trip was at the 176th Wing, in Anchorage, Alaska, where he talked with Airmen about his Aim Points and recognized outstanding Airmen at the unit during an enlisted call.
"For the first time since I have been with the Alaska Air National Guard, a high-level senior enlisted representative came and spoke to us," said Staff Sgt. Colton Nelson, a 176th Wing Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft loadmaster instructor who was coined by Hotaling during an enlisted call. "This was an opportunity for the enlisted force to hear from the 'boss.' After the enlisted call, Airmen were buzzing about his message and the prospect of new changes coming to us. Most people just need a kind of mental chiropractic adjustment sometimes, and I think Chief Hotaling did that for us."
Hotaling then visited Airmen in the Alaskan interior at the 168th Airlift Wing in Fairbanks and the 213th Space Warning Squadron at Clear Air Force Station.
"In Alaska, having the time we did, we were able to visit almost every Alaska ANG Airman, which was significant for me," said Hotaling. "We visited both wings and a geographically separated unit at Clear Air Force Station. Clear has a fairly significant national security mission set, and isn't visited very often by ANG leadership because it's so hard to get to."
Hotaling's next destination was the 154th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, to meet ANG Airmen at installations throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
"In Hawaii, we have the largest wing in the Air National Guard," explained Hotaling. "They have a lot of moving parts, a lot of GSUs. It's an island state, and those GSUs are located across all the islands. These are places which have significant value to our national defense, but are rarely visited."
"I feel that we reached Alaskan and Hawaiian Airmen with the respect they deserve," Hotaling said. "To have a leadership team come in and spend long-term time with them is significant."
Senior Airman Orlando Corpuz, a 154th Wing broadcast journalist who met Hotaling during the trip, expressed a similar sentiment.
"You can do all the 'book work' you want about an organization, but until you go out and actually meet the people and experience the culture, you cannot truly know that organization," Corpuz said. "[When helping shape policy,] his experience in Hawaii will prove beneficial, but the big take away for me is that someone in Washington knows the Hawaii ANG exists."
During the trip, Hotaling had the rare opportunity to observe Guardsmen who were called out for a disaster response. The Hawaii National Guard activated 83 Soldiers and Airmen in response to the Puna lava flow on the Big Island. Their mission is to ensure the safety of residents in the affected area, as well as provide security.
"Our original plan was to go on from Hawaii to Guam, but there was a natural disaster in Hawaii," said Hotaling. "This was the first time as the ANG command chief that I could say I was 'in the field' on a disaster response operation, compared to just visiting a unit. I was able to observe the entire command and control portion of handling a lava flow. I still look forward to going to Guam, though."
Though the Kilauea volcano has been erupting constantly since 1983, this is the first time that its lava flows have advanced so close to densely-inhabited areas. The flow has the potential to affect 10,000 residents on the Big Island, and threatens to cut off road access to an entire region. The town of Pahoa, Hawaii could see a quick ten-minute trip across town turn into a two and a half hour ordeal until new roads around the affected area can be constructed.
"This [response] is exactly what the Guard was designed to do," Hotaling said. "This is in an area of the state that didn't have the greatest relations with the military - until this event happened. All the responders were local residents who were able to talk with their neighbors. When residents saw their own citizens out there in uniform protecting the community, it really resonated. We saw people on the side of the road waving and cheering everybody on; it was a big deal to the populace to see their Guard in action."
From Hawaii, Hotaling flew south for another round of ice and snow to spend time with members from the 109th Airlift Wing supporting Operation Deep Freeze across the continent of Antarctica. The 109th, based out of Scotia, New York, conducts transport and supply operations for the US Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation's research mission on the continent, with their signature Air Force LC-130 Skibird aircraft.
"It wasn't until I got to New Zealand, which is the forward operating location for the Antarctic mission, that I honestly appreciated the fact of what the military does to support our national interest for science," said Hotaling. "That was eye-opening to me to see how the might of the Department of Defense helps other agencies within our government. Only the United States had the ability to create an actual complex at the South Pole. All of it was delivered - down to the last bolt - by an LC-130. It all had to be broken down into an LC-130 and then re-assembled on site. To see the building as representing the might of our nation was impressive, but more so that it all got there through the Air National Guard."
Webster's defines "austere" as "having few pleasures; simple and harsh," but that description seems to fall short of characterizing the challenges that Airmen face in preforming their duties at the bottom of the world. Hotaling learned about the obstacles inherent in operating a flight line on an ice shelf.
"There's such a short operational window that they have there," said Hotaling. "They only have a few months in the Antarctic summer to do an entire year's worth of work. But, because they have 24 hours of daylight, they can run 24 hour operations. Williams Field, the LC-130 ski way, is a flight line just like anywhere else in the world, but this was being conducted out in the open in a polar environment. They don't even do portable hangars, because of the concern of them blowing away or being damaged if a storm comes in. Airmen are just out in the elements, but they've developed their own techniques to do their jobs. From maintenance, to operations, to safety, to everything in between, learning how they had to adapt and operate in that very austere environment was massively impressive."
"The following day, we traveled to the South Pole," said Hotaling. "I was able to spend the several hours of flight time from McMurdo Station to the South Pole talking with the aircrew about the challenges of flying on the ice. It impressed me that it takes years of tactics, training, and procedures to come up with the safe flying environment that they create in this very unsafe place down there. But, the 109th Airmen have the same concerns as any other Airmen. They're a normal ANG Wing that happens to be performing a mission in a very strange place."
Standing at the bottom of the world would be an unforgettable experience for anyone, but for the Airmen from New York as well as the Command Chief, accomplishing the mission comes first.
"When I first arrived in Antarctica, I was emotionally overcome," said Chief Hotaling. "The entire time I was there, I was humbled. Seeing the Antarctic mission in person reinforced for me the fact that Air National Guard Airmen can perform their specific mission sets anywhere in the world - literally anywhere - and perform them safely and professionally."
After traveling through three continents for more than 28,000 miles, getting one-on-one time with his Airmen and seeing them work is Hotaling's payoff.
Equally important to him is that the Airmen who serve in locations a long distance away from headquarters feel the same support and attention as the Airmen who are in more accessible duty stations.
"The biggest impact on the trip was the ability to spend long-term time with as many Airmen as possible," said Hotaling. "I got to talk to Airmen who are doing the mission that you expect any ANG Airman to do, but they're doing it in very remote locations. They again proved to me that if you set clear vision and goals throughout the organization, that no matter where an Airman is, they'll be able to perform."