I've often told Airmen about Tech. Sgt. (now Chief Master Sgt., Ret.) Jeff Geidner's leadership examples, but I've never written them down.
Currently commanding 650 aircraft maintainers, I've had more opportunities to do so than ever before, so when the opportunity came to write this article it made sense to finally put in writing each of the most significant leadership examples my first Air Force "hero" and mentor set for me. This article isn't going to pass any "Three Major Points" guidelines from Professional Military Education. It's just going to come at you straightforward, in the order I remember experiences with the best enlisted leader I've ever met to this day.
The maintenance flight chief had given Airman 1st Class Hintz the newcomers' talk and walked him out to the phase docks to meet his dock chief. That first impression is forever burned into my mind. Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey J. Geidner was sitting on a stool, dressed in coveralls, goggles on, a Job Guide in his lap, hydraulic fluid all over his hands, and had two other wet-behind-the-ears Airmen sitting with him under an F-16. He was training them on changing a filter the old-fashioned way-- hands-aaon. The flight chief called to him, so he rolled out from under the jet and wiped fluid off his hands as he walked up to shake my hand. He was about 5'9" and wiry. He had a cocky grin on his face as he walked up, looked up at me and said, "You Hintz? You play any hoops?"
Right away there were several things that impressed me:
1) He was personally training his young Airmen, not having one of his senior Airmen, sergeants or staff sergeants do it.
2) He knew who I was before I got there
3) He was into sports with his Airmen and that was going to be fun.
One of the first things I noticed about the work area, and the first thing always I remember about it, is Tech. Sgt. Geidner made and posted a placard on the outside of his dock office where the other two phase docks could plainly see it: "WE SET THE STANDARD."
As I typed those words just now, my eyes stung with fierce pride planted in me 22 years ago!
Yep, that sign like his grin was another indication he was cocky. But he backed it up. He led our dock to sustain a 96 percent plus Quality Assurance pass rate (I scrounged that fact up from my Airman Performance Reports from 1989). The other two docks never came close.
He loved to write "ZD" (zero defects) on the phase flow tracker board after QA left every week.
It was our team's first indication that we'd done it again -- another ZD job.
Tech. Sgt. Geidner had what I've come to call a "Top 1 Percent" attitude. I call it that because he made chief master sergeant (top 1 percent of all Airmen) and because he believed what almost no one you meet in aircraft maintenance believes. Most F-16 maintainers are convinced that because the jet is pretty beat up by the time it gets to a phased inspection and because it's such a complex machine, QA can always find something wrong no matter how hard or how many Airmen look it over before QA inspects it.
Not Tech. Sgt. Geidner. He inspired us to believe we were good enough so there was actually no way QA would ever find something wrong after we finished our maintenance and final self-inspections. It just became normal to our team to get ZD ratings because it was that way when we got there and always stayed that way. I do remember clearly one time we failed for one single piece of Foreign Object Debris on the whole jet. Our pride was stung and Tech. Sgt. Geidner was ... uh, let's just say he was real mad.
The lessons to learn, keep, and pass on:
1) Dare to believe you can achieve perfection and go after it. You'll get far closer than if you take the easy path of saying it's impossible.
2) Your Airmen will rise to the level where you set the expectation.
3) Success and morale are synergistic and powerful and winning is just plain fun.
Direction not invitation
After a couple of months of working there, Tech. Sgt. Geidner called me in one day and directed (notice I did not say "invited") me to come to his house the next Saturday at 0600. He gave no reason. He spent the entire day with me, tearing the header off my $450 Opel's engine, cleaning parts and putting on a new gasket kit he had bought in advance. I met his wife and children and they fed me breakfast, lunch and dinner. He did not ask me questions directly about my life, but just engaged in general conversation.
By the end of the day I had a fixed car, but more importantly Tech. Sgt. Geidner knew a lot about me: where I came from, what I liked, what made me tick and what I wanted in life. From that day on he went out of his way to help me become an Air Force officer. And I was completely loyal to that leader for spending his Saturday with me. I don't remember how he knew my engine had a leaky header. Maybe he overheard me talking about it. How many NCOs these days do this for each Airman assigned to them? How many NCOs know their Airmen as well as Tech. Sgt. Geidner knew his?
1) One Saturday per Airman gained an NCO the complete and permanent loyalty of his Airmen.
2) We were motivated to serve him especially because he learned our goals and helped us achieve them.
3) He knew I had a problem with my car -- he paid attention -- and he not only did something to help, but used it as an opportunity to take our work relationship to the highest level.
Throughout a two year tour with Tech. Sgt. Geidner, our phase dock team deployed together, played football, basketball and softball together, lifted weights together and went out on the town together. During a deployment to Turkey he made us all tackle powerlifting. I've never liked lifting weights (apparent to this day), but after a month under his whip I dead-lifted 385 pounds. Maybe that's not a lot to many, but it was more than I ever dreamed I could lift. We also went out to the "Wagonwheel" as a crew. We all had to go, we all had a good time, and he got us all back safely as a crew.
Take the court
One weekend we went and played hoops in the Incirlik fitness center. We were just shooting around when the base team came in for a practice. Tech. Sgt. Geidner got that cocky smirk, looked about two feet up at one of their players, and stated they had to beat us to take the court. Now Tech. Sgt. Geidner is the last person you'd think played hoops, just by looking at him, but naturally he turned out to be quite a point guard and led a bunch of aircraft maintainers from a single work section to beat down that base team. We way outplayed our normal abilities. Tech. Sgt. Geidner just seemed to bring the best out of us all at everything.
Back at Hahn he had us all doing PT together all the time. And he broke it up with all kinds of sports, depending on the season and the weather. We capped every year with December NCOs vs. Airmen full tackle, no pads football games in the German snow. The Airmen never won. We never even got close.
Overall, he kept us all so busy and so together that none of us ever got in any kind of trouble. We worked hard and played hard -- as a team. We had clean Personnel Information Files. And we all were successful while having a great time.
1) Get and stay involved with your Airmen and you'll have a lot of fun.
2) Get and stay involved with your Airmen and they won't end up with DUIs, Article 15s, discharges or worse.
3) Work hard and play hard as a team and there is no limit to what you can accomplish "on or off the court."
Tidy Friday barbecue
Another thing we did throughout that tour was tidy Friday and barbecue. Every Friday some of us finished up the jet and "sold it back to the flight line," some of us helped wash the entire hangar (Tech. Sgt. Geidner said every Friday morning at roll call, "get the whooliboogers out from behind the lockers"), and some of us completely dismantled our composite tool kits, cleaned and inspected every tool in them, and cut new foam for the drawers. Wow! Clean is an understatement. My training instructor from Basic Military Training School would have been proud. Also, the spouses all started trickling in through the hangar and to the break room at about noon. By 1400 our mouths were watering from the smell of pot luck. So every Friday afternoon was a picnic with all the families. In our work section, Tech. Sgt. Geidner had us wanting to get it all done not to leave, but to be part of the picnic.
1) Homemade food is a positive and powerful motivater ... far better than guilt trips or "get it done or else."
2) A clean, orderly, sharp work environment contributed to that "Top 1 Percent" attitude throughout our team.
3) Having all the families in the work center every week kept "work" a part of their lives, too, so they understood what we did and fully supported what we did at work. We Airmen felt the support of those families, even those of us that were single. Just one more important ingredient in achieving a high morale and a high performing team.
Dished out discipline
It wasn't pure roses. We did not get into commander-level trouble in my two years there because we got NCO- level tough counseling when needed. I myself got a Letter of Counseling for a mistake I made in checking out a vehicle for use. Tech. Sgt. Geidner minced no words in taking one of us aside and giving us strong course correction. But we admired him so much and did not want to disappoint him that that's all we needed to stay on track.
The lessons here are universal:
1) Address discipline issues at your level quickly and firmly and they won't get to the point of needing commander level involvement. You are actually protecting your Airmen by being tough on them when appropriate.
2) Punish in private. He always took us aside for the wall-to-wall counseling. Anything public was praising or just in fun jibing.
3) When your Airmen know you care (remember the Saturday story), they won't want to disappoint you and so will stay on the straight and narrow.
Give out recognition
The last example I'll relate has to do with taking the extra time to recognize and push your Airmen. Tech. Sgt. Geidner submitted one of us in every award category every time possible, so we won a lot of awards. He got several of us promoted to senior Airman Below-The-Zone, and for me in particular, he wrote flattering letters recommending me for a commissioning program. I just cannot see what more he could have done for us.
The lessons, again, are clear:
1) Take care of your people and they'll take care of the mission.
2) The extra distance you go to take care of your Airmen will have career- and life-long positive impacts.
3) That extra time pushing and recognizing your Airmen just adds that much more to the synergy and great morale of the work environment.
Okay. There it is. I've finally put in writing most of these simple yet effective living examples of great front line leadership, planted in the lives of a dozen Airmen in 1988 and continuing to ripple through generations of Airmen still today. I cannot help but strive to achieve in every leadership role the Air Force entrusts me to that proud, successful, fun work environment Tech. Sgt. Jeff Geidner created for us in Phase Dock 2, Hahn Air Base Germany. I challenge all leaders to do all these things for Airmen at all levels, but especially junior NCOs at that critical front line level of leadership of our most valuable resource: our young Airmen.