Professional working relationships

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeff Rutherford
  • 721st Operations Group

I enlisted in the military right out of high school, and due to an advanced electronics program, I showed up to my first operational squadron as a very inexperienced E-5. After two years in the shop and a six month deployment, I was feeling very sure of my capabilities as a technician, but I had a lot to learn about being a team player. I knew I wanted to be an officer, and I planned on applying for a flying program. I was diligently working on my degree when a new guy showed up in the avionics shop. He was an experienced E-6 but he had never worked on our aircraft before. To make things worse, he didn’t work hard or try to fit in. I remember having a lot of contempt for him, and I let him know it. Luckily, he was promoted and transferred out of my shop almost immediately. Or at least I thought I was lucky.

            Three years later, I completed all the requirements I needed to apply for bootstrap and started to assemble my package. I had my degree, I had outstanding performance reports and I had the support of my patrol plane commander. My education officer had me fill out a “chit” or a permission slip to apply. It was only a formality but everyone in my chain of command had to sign off on it. Two days later I got a call from the education officer asking what I did to anger the maintenance chief. It just so happened that the E-6 I had treated badly made E-8 on his first go, and he was now the second person in my chain of command. Needless to say, he remembered me and didn’t think highly of me. With his disapproval signature on my chit, no one else in my chain, including my squadron commander would sign off on the chit. I confronted the senior chief and asked him why he disapproved the chit. He told me after working with me, he couldn’t see himself having to work under me. My dreams of getting accepted to a flying program ended before they even started. My enlistment was up before I got the chance to apply again, and it took ten more years before I would earn my commission through ROTC.

            I look back on that experience as a major life lesson in my young military career. Since then I quickly adopted the philosophy of a professional working relationship with everyone. In the military you will have an endless stream of supervisors, subordinates and peers. Some you will like and some you won’t, but you have to work with them all. The best way to deal with the challenging ones is to have a “Professional Working Relationship” with everyone. You never know when they will be in a position to help you with the mission or something a little more personal.