A salute to our local military leaders
They pace in the lobby outside the meeting room, mobile phone pressed firmly to their ear.
Maybe they quickly squirrel away to a corner to take a conference call or respond to an email. Some whip out their iPads and resolve a pressing issue in mere minutes.
It’s the Leadership Tampa hustle: a break between that fascinating panel discussion and the presentation from the CEO that doesn’t always serve as a break. In 10 minutes or less, these titans of business must address an issue that requires their immediate attention.
Every Leadership Tampa member must balance between the demands of the program and the requirements of their everyday jobs. Yet it can be even more taxing for the MacDill Air Force Base leaders hoping to immerse themselves in lessons on what makes Tampa tick.
The average LT member may be worried about job security, but the average MacDill leader is worried about national security. It can be company incidents versus international incidents. Employees versus airmen. Trade secrets versus state secrets.
“Events across our nation and around the globe directly impact the duty day of any military member,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Emily Farkas, deputy commander of the 6th Maintenance Group and a LT 2018 graduate. “We typically have a consistent peacetime work schedule, but it can change instantly when the unit receives a task to deploy or to support real-world missions from home station, i.e. MacDill Air Force Base.
“In supporting a military nominee, careful consideration is given to deployment cycles in an effort to honor the commitment to the program. Furthermore, military members typically do not have more than two or three years per assignment so the timing of participating in the program is another important consideration.”
Clearly, the stakes can be higher for Leadership Tampa’s military representatives, but they never fail to make the commitment. For decades, Leadership Tampa has found a spot for MacDill’s finest. The leadership at MacDill supports a nominee(s) from the base for Leadership Tampa so they can share their perspective as one of the more than 19,000 uniformed members at the base.
“Since the Armed Forces became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the military-civilian gap has widened, and less Americans have a connection to the military as only less than 1 percent have served,” Farkas said. “In my experience with programs like Leadership Tampa, they have been able to connect uniformed service members with community business leaders to exchange leadership experiences and to share personal stories of the military journey … much like MacDill’s Honorary Commander Program prioritizes engagement with our civic leaders.
“Additionally, it gives military members the opportunity to know more about the community that supports them and their families.”
Few, if any, have regretted the decision. Irving Lee, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said he enjoyed his time in Leadership Tampa Class of 2004, but the involvement was significant for him and for all MacDill members.
“The time commitment is one of the biggest issues,” said Lee, who was the 6th Mission Support Group Commander while stationed at MacDill. “The people who are the best candidates have insane schedules so in addition to picking from amongst a pool of well qualified candidates, schedules also have to be considered.”
Lee said, however, it’s about more than picking a leader who has the time. Base leaders also examine what’s best for their mission, and which candidate makes the most sense in helping with that mission.
“Another key consideration is figuring out where the best ‘return on investment’ will be for the base,” Lee said. “Of course, we want to send the best ambassador to the community, but what will it cost in terms of time and opportunity costs to let someone make a 10-month commitment?”
Both Lee and Farkas have fond memories of their time. Lee specifically recalls a special surprise he hid from his classmates during their visit to MacDill on “Military Day.”
“I still remember (former Bucs safety) John Lynch being on our KC-135 flight,” Lee said. “I believe he had been traded and Chief Lew Monroe helped get him a flight suit and a seat on the LT flight. The ladies in the ‘04 class were amazed to see him walk up the stairs to get on the plane. I still have our group photo somewhere.”
After completing the class, many choose to remain involved after they “graduate,” while others find themselves deployed to the next city after completing their two- or three-year tour in Tampa. Farkas has extended her commitment through LTA.
“I remain involved with Leadership Tampa Alumni because I now feel a personal connection to Tampa and desire the opportunity to give back to the community,” Farkas said.
With Veterans Day on the horizon, let’s remember to salute not only every man and woman who has served, but those LTA members who have managed to go through the class while fulfilling a commitment to the nation.
That’s all I’m saying.
Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Co-Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you