Altus' new command chief 'gets real' about personal, professional fitness

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
During a recent talk with the young Airmen at the First Term Airman Center here, Philip G. Topper said he joined the Air Force in 1980 with intentions of learning a skill and separating after a 4-year enlistment. Now, 26 years later, 97th Air Mobility Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Topper has no regrets.

"I stayed in because I saw the camaraderie," he said. "I saw a chance to excel and achieve things that I could never imagine as a civilian."

Chief Topper has the same desire for the enlisted corps at Altus Air Force Base.
"I have a drive for professional development because I truly believe we have some of the finest American citizens serving in our Air Force today," he said. "We, as leaders, need to give our Airmen the information they need and mentor them so they can assume different roles and responsibilities as they are promoted to higher ranks."

Chief Topper said in 2007 the Air Force will introduce a new Enlisted Performance Report format that will be simpler and less time consuming.

"Ultimately, just like any system designed to evaluate people, unless [noncommissioned officers] and senior NCOs make their standards known through feedback and then enforce those standards, it's only a matter of time before this system becomes 'inflated,' as some believe the current system is," said the chief.

"The challenge we have is making sure people understand what is expected of them and have concrete standards. In order to increase their effectiveness, Airmen need specific guidance and requirements."

Chief Topper said Airmen, NCOs and senior NCOs should always seek ways to develop themselves personally and professionally.

"If you're going to be a leader in today's Air Force, you need to get out there and do things that will potentially help you," he said. "Whether it's increasing your education, serving your community or expanding your knowledge of your career field, do things to prepare yourself for greater responsibilities in the Air Force."

"What I try to tell people is to look for those squadron, base and community activities that line up with their priorities in life. Don't just do things to fill blocks on a performance report; line it up with your professional goals and aspirations."

Before he arrived here in September, Chief Topper served as commandant of the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Earlier in his career, he served as a first sergeant for several years.

"A part of every NCO's development should be some type of special duty, whether it's as a recruiter, military training instructor or [professional military education] instructor. That's what's going to broaden you. It will force you to get outside of your comfort zone and learn something new.

"You don't become a leader by osmosis," Chief Topper said. "You become a leader by getting out there and getting involved in new things."

Chief Topper also said the Air Force is changing, and with the increased deployments, force shaping and the Air Force's adoption of the LEAN concept, members need to make a daily commitment in the areas of readiness, training, physical fitness and professional development.

"Battlefield Deployment Training is a step in the right direction," said the chief. "I heard about Altus' BDT before I came here, and I'm going to go through it myself in January, because I want to experience what our people are going through in the way of deployment training.

"I went to basic training last week with the first sergeants, and while we were there, they had a first sergeant and a basic trainee sit down in front of two M-16s.

"They timed them to see how fast they could take the weapons apart. That trainee stripped that weapon down to the bare parts and laid it all out on the mat in 1 minute and 40 seconds. The first sergeant wasn't even halfway finished disassembling his weapon. It was the same way when they reassembled the weapons," he said.

"This is all because of the trainee's familiarity with the weapon. In a combat situation, your M-16 might jam up on you, and you, or someone you're responsible for, could become a casualty because you're not familiar with the weapon. So, what we have to do is get our NCOs and senior NCOs to that same level of familiarity," said the chief.

"The more training you receive, the more confident you are in your leadership capabilities, and to me, that's what this training is all about; saving and preserving lives and accomplishing the mission."

"Also, physical fitness is critical," Chief Topper said. "If people are going to continue to wear this uniform, they have to be willing to step in that direction. You will hear me preach fitness big time because it's a major issue in our survivability in the combat zone.

"I'm not trying to scare people, I'm just trying to tell them. We're decreasing our force by approximately 40,000 personnel and those who are going to be retained will have to be physically fit. That's just the reality."

"There is a moving train coming to Altus called Air Force Smart Operations 21," he said.

"It is a direct result of our force becoming smaller and we have to think of ways to do things smarter and more efficiently. All NCOs and senior NCOs need to educate themselves on this, because AFSO 21 needs to become a cultural way of living every day, not a managed program.

"The smarter we get about this concept, the better off everyone will be," Chief Topper concluded.