Meeting senior leaders enhances perspective on AF career

  • Published
  • By Air Force ROTC Cadet Connor Starrett
  • ROTC Detachment 780, South Dakota State University

I was sitting at our leadership laboratory when I was told by our commander, “Congratulations, Cadet Starrett, you will be attending this year’s AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colorado.” I was a little bit in shock, and very excited as I had put in for the opportunity a few weeks prior.

This year’s theme, “Dominant Air and Space Forces to Deter, Fight and Win,” was impressive, and something I was looking forward to hearing more about as I come closer to beginning my Air Force journey.

At the symposium, held March 6-8, we had the opportunity to hear from senior leadership across the Department of the Air Force, including Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.; Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman; Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass; Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force Roger Towberman; and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Ramón Colón-López.

In addition to these speakers, we heard from senior intelligence officials, senior trainers in the rated career fields, industry leaders and the last surviving American Ace.

In addition to this, there were over 100 booths at the technology exposition, including representation from industry,  major commands, educational institutions and many more. One of my favorite parts during the exposition was being able to sit in on a meeting with a lieutenant general and industry leaders to learn more about how we work together to ensure our force is well-trained and well-equipped.

Being a cadet, especially from a smaller detachment, it was surreal to be able to speak with as many high-ranking officers as I did. They were more than happy to help, answer questions and give advice on the journey of becoming a second lieutenant, to a captain, and beyond. Additionally, being able to network with my fellow cadets, as well as learn more about their training styles and ideas, was an invaluable experience. These are friendships that will continue as we move on to active duty, or into the “Big Blue,” as we call it. We experienced and discussed many of the keynotes that occurred during our time at the symposium.

One of the keynotes I attended focused on how we are changing the way we prioritize intelligence and threat management. This was incredibly interesting to me. I hope to be a cyber warfare officer in the future and learning about what the Department of the Air Force thinks will be the next threat can only give us more of a tactical advantage.

In addition to this, we had the opportunity to hear from senior leadership, and one thing that was echoed across the board: our people make the difference. Brown mentioned in his speech that because of our people, airpower is the answer.  Colón-López mentioned his dislike of people who say, “I’m only a (fill in the blank),” as everyone is important to the mission. Being in AFROTC I have been guilty in the past of the infamous “I’m only a cadet” line; however, hearing senior leadership talk about the importance of the future and our people gave me a new sense of purpose.

I was lucky enough to attend this conference with fellow cadets and cadre spanning 30 detachments. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and to my leadership for putting me in for it. This conference highlighted the importance of our people, and because of it, I believe we have the ability to deter, fight, and win.