Many Airmen only have a few opportunities throughout their careers to shake hands and speak with the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force. These encounters usually happen when the two Air Force leaders are out visiting units or during an Airman’s Call and often provide Airmen with chances to voice their concerns.
Despite the rarity of these personal interactions, enlisted Airmen’s voices are still heard every day. That’s because Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy, like many before him, is hard at work, ensuring their messages are delivered at the highest levels of Air Force leadership.
To accurately represent enlisted Airmen, he must first know the issues that are important to them, and to do that, the chief travels to where Airmen are throughout the world, meeting and speaking with Airmen face to face.
“I’m out there talking with them, asking for their input, their questions, their feedback,” Roy said. “I want to know how well they are equipped. I want to know how they train. I want to know how prepared they are — and how prepared they think they are.
“I stand face to face with them, look into their eyes and talk with them,” he said.
The chief then takes that feedback to the Pentagon. It’s here where his advice and professional counsel help the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force make decisions that shape the future of the service.
“His advice has been indispensable to Secretary Donley and me, especially as we’ve worked to maintain Air Force readiness despite diminishing financial resources,” said recently retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, former chief of staff of the Air Force, who worked closely with Roy. “Over the last three years, Chief Roy has proven himself to be a tireless champion for our enlisted force, whether in private meetings with me or in larger meetings with the Air Force’s most senior officials.”
Having personal interaction with enlisted Airmen not only helps Roy do his job, it also gives the Airmen an opportunity to be mentored by the Air Force’s top enlisted leader.
“Chief Roy’s visits to our Air Education and Training Command wings have been extremely beneficial to our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Cody, the AETC command chief master sergeant. “The chief’s willingness to spend time, face-to-face time, with our Airmen creates the trust and inspiration our Airmen are looking for and need. His willingness to listen to Airmen with an open mind has been well received, but also note the chief’s straight-forward approach is just the kind of candor and honesty our Airmen want. Hearing things directly and in person from our most senior enlisted leader will always be important.”
Roy recently spoke to a large gathering of Airmen during a professional development forum in Jacksonville, Fla. While there, Roy challenged enlisted Airmen to communicate in person rather than rely on email or text messaging. He also spoke about how bystanders are the key to preventing sexual assault and suicides.
“He’s addressing these issues head on and making bold statements about them and what we can do to fix them,” said Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel, from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., who was in attendance at the forum.
Grammel said it’s reassuring to him and his fellow Airmen to know they have a leader like Roy who cares about what they have to say.
“It’s great to know our voices are heard and that someone is looking out for our interests and what we’re doing in the Air Force,” he said.
Of course, delivering their messages to senior Air Force officials is only one part of Roy’s responsibilities. He’s also charged with overseeing enlisted Airmen’s development, ensuring they’re ready to complete their missions successfully. On top of that, he must also predict the future of the Air Force.
“The chief master sergeant of the Air Force needs to have a vision for the future of the enlisted force, to anticipate what kinds of things our future mission requirements will demand and create plans to prepare Airmen to meet those requirements,” Roy said. “The ultimate goal is to ensure our enlisted force is trained, equipped and prepared to accomplish the mission.”
In other words, if he fails at his mission, the Air Force fails at preparing Airmen to defend the United States.
“If our Airmen aren’t given the proper guidance and support they need to grow through experience, education and training, we lose our edge,” Roy said. “If our Airmen aren’t properly supervised, the force weakens.”
Chief master sergeants throughout the Air Force see this need for continual development and recognize the impact Roy has had in this area.
“Chief Roy’s focus and drive to deliberately develop the enlisted force has and will continue to have a profound impact on our Air Force,” Cody said. “There is no question our Air Force has reduced dramatically in size over the past few decades, and the future likely holds further reductions. The individual capabilities that Airmen bring to the fight today, and into the future, will be keys to success in different ways than in the past. In order for the enlisted Airmen to be effective in a smaller force, they must be more capable, hence the absolute necessity for deliberate development.”
To meet this necessity, Roy plans to continue meeting with Airmen, wherever they serve. He said that personal interaction is absolutely essential.
“As we develop easier and more advanced digital methods of communication, we must remember that nothing — nothing — can ever replace analog interaction,” he said. “I enjoy using the latest technology as much as the next person, but I know to truly communicate with someone, it’s best to be face-to-face.”
And Airmen can know their messages will be delivered to Air Force leaders, not through email or by phone, but face to face.