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Taking care of Airmen, Developing leaders

An Airman stands on the flight line while observing a pilot preparing to take off.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin Brill, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft hydraulics craftsman, observes pilots preparing to take off at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Dec. 4, 2019. Brill took on the responsibility of bringing about subtle changes in the squadron that not only boosted individual morale for the Airmen on his shift, but brought them together as a unit and enhanced overall camaraderie. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

An Airman uses a tool to unscrew a bolt on a C-130J Super Hercules.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Patrick Shafer, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron communication navigation apprentice, tightens a bolt on the radar system of a C-130J Super Hercules at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Dec. 4, 2019. Shafer recently worked through the process of getting the National Alliance on Mental Illness to attend a squadron cookout and provide information to Airmen about mental health issues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

An Airman looks at a computer as another Airman fixes a part of a C-130J Super Hercules.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Patrick Shafer, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron communication navigation apprentice, loosens a bolt on a C-130J Super Hercules radar system while U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin Brill, 19th AMXS aircraft hydraulics craftsman, looks over the job description on a laptop at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Dec. 4, 2019. Recently, Brill assisted Shafer as he worked through the process of getting the National Alliance on Mental Illness to attend a squadron cookout and provide information to Airmen about mental health issues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin Brill, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft hydraulics craftsman, took on the responsibility of bringing about subtle changes in the squadron that not only boosted individual morale for the Airmen on his shift, but brought them together as a unit and enhanced overall camaraderie.

Seeing that Airmen needed their voices to be heard, the NCO brought about a solution to improve a process the squadron already used — a suggestion box — by having direct supervisors know what issues their Airmen are having.

“Normally squadrons have a suggestion box that goes straight to the commander and first sergeants but instead of bypassing the whole chain of command, we're getting the NCO’s involved because they have the most power in any unit to positively affect morale,” Brill said.

The suggestion box gives NCOs a chance to develop critical thinking and leadership in Airmen by showing them the process of implementing changes. If something is not achievable, they explain to the Airmen why it cannot be done then search for an alternative solution for the problem together.

“There's always solid answers provided to them,” Brill said. “NCOs explain to them in detail the steps needed to make their requests happen. Now, I would say, a lot more Airmen really understand the inner workings of maintenance and how we operate.”

Another morale boost Brill helped bring about was a weekly barbecue for the shift he worked on that allowed families to grow more connected to other families in the squadron and gets them exposed to the mission.

“Our Airmen’s families come in and bring food,” Brill said. “They are getting to meet each other's families, and it’s made a night and day difference on swing shifts.”

Recently, Brill assisted one of his Airman as he worked through the process of getting the National Alliance on Mental Illness to attend one of the morale-boosting cookouts and provide information to Airmen about mental health issues.

“He helped get me in contact with the first sergeant,” said Airman 1st Class Patrick Shafer, 19th AMXS communication navigation apprentice. “As an Airman, I didn't know how these processes worked. He led me through the process, and he decided to start small with an informational session at one of the cookouts.”

This process acted as a good opportunity for Brill to let one of his Airmen learn a process themselves with limited help and guidance in order to develop their leadership skills early on.

“You're not just making them put shapes in holes,” Brill said. “You're telling them why they have these different shapes, where they are supposed to put them, and you help them figure it out for themselves. That's how you get the best, not only just leadership training but education in general.”

The visit from NAMI was seen as beneficial to all because the information they provided could help all Airmen around the squadron recognize signs of mental illness in other Airmen or even their family members before it causes a negative impact on anyone.

“My thought process for bringing NAMI in was that maybe they could help teach us a little bit more, give somebody a little bit more power, and maybe they can help somebody out just a little bit better than we could,” Brill said. “Maybe somebody that nobody knew needed help at all is now going to be more comfortable in this family-driven environment and they're going to speak up and say something. They will get to see that a lot of people are going to come together and lift them up together, as a team.”

Brill’s efforts, along with other NCOs, to change the atmosphere of the unit have not gone unnoticed by the Airmen around the squadron.

“He's always trying to improve the squadron,” Shafer said. “He's always the one person that you can go to for anything and will drop everything he's doing to help and I think that he cares about morale more than anyone else I’ve ever seen.”

With all the recent changes made by the NCO tier, Brill urges the Airmen to step up and keep the momentum they have created going.

“If you see something wrong and you don't like it, you are more than capable and encouraged to say something about it,” Brill said. “Not only should you say something about it but if you don't know how to fix it – we're going to teach you how to do it.”

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