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Wing Commander introduces new program to communicate with Airmen – “SLED Talks”

small group discussion

U.S. Air Force Col. Jeff Smith, 173rd Fighter Wing commander, speaks during a small group discussion at February 21, 2019 at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Ore. This program, labeled “SLED Talks”, a play on the name of the highly popular TED talks, was started to communicate with Airmen across the base in smaller group setting of 12 or less individuals. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --

The 173rd Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Jeff “Sled” Smith, has started a new program to communicate with Airmen across the base. Labeled “SLED Talks”, a play on the name of the highly popular TED talks, these are small group discussions held with 12 or less individuals on a routine basis. 

“I hope to inform our Airmen about what I’m hearing with respect to the future of the F-15, possible future mission options, and timelines,” he said.  “I also hope to inspire them to reflect on the amazing team they are part of.”

The discussions take place every week Smith is here, and he hopes to reach as many Airmen as possible, scheduling multiple sessions a week.

Airmen that are interested in attending one of the discussions, should volunteer through their supervisors to attend. Smith says the goal is to have members from a variety of shops in each meeting. “This serves two purposes—it allows the mission to continue without too much disruption, and it brings diversity of thought, perspective, and experience into the room,” he adds.

The inspiration for this program springs from the need of a wing commander to communicate with his Airmen. Smith notes that the traditional, large-audience commander’s calls were not popular and people didn’t feel like they could ask questions in that large group forum. However, without the commander’s calls Airmen “do not feel like they are connected with command and are not as well informed on current events, future mission options, or command goals and vision,” he says. “I had to find a happy medium to reach people.”

That happy medium came from a challenge by the commander of the Air Education and Training Command, Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast. In a commander’s intent video, Kwast encouraged leadership at all levels to sit down with their Airmen in small group settings of 12 or less and have discussions. “This is where real learning happens, this where people can voice their opinion,” he said.

“As I have quickly learned, the small group forum is awesome—people have been interactive and ask a lot of questions,” says Smith. 

Participants seem to agree.

“I feel the small group format is very effective,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Mckenzie, a recent participant in the SLED Talks forum.  “We tend to be more open to engage in communication and cultivate around ideas and information when facilitated around informal interpersonal interaction; it means a lot to know that the highest leader within our local chain of command has taken the time out of his day to pass along unfiltered information in a small group setting.”

Discussions vary based on the audience and current events. However, typical topics include current base issues, what the future looks like, and professional development. “This is a chance for me to tell you where we are and where we are going,” says Smith.

“The most important thing I took away from the SLED Talks was a mutual sense of ‘knowing’,” said Mckenzie.  “Being part of table top conversation with the base commander, and getting information from the source is a reassurance that regardless if we know, don’t know or know a little bit, at least Kingsley Field as a whole is on the same page. As I advance in my career and hopefully move up through the ranks I will for sure integrate this type of communication into my leadership style.”

If any Airman has specific requests for topics they would like addressed, text or email them to 173fwccall@gmail.com 

“We are part of amazing teams—the Air Force, the Oregon Guard, and Team Kingsley,” adds Smith. “I look forward to seeing everyone in the small group discussions!”

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