First year for Warrant Officer of the Air Force

WOFF-AF Rob Swanwick speaks to Lawrence Dutrieux about his first 12 months in the job and his hopes for the coming year and beyond.

One of the big-ticket items for WOFFAF Rob Swanwick in his first year in the chair was the approval of the Warrant Officer Employment Continuum (WOFF EC) in July 2016.

WOFF-AF Swanwick said driving home the benefits of the continuum for both airmen and the Air Force would continue to be one of his priorities in 2017.

Although it is still in its infancy, some of the continuum’s benefits should start to trickle down the line over the next 12 months.

“I think a lot of people get it, but there’s a bunch of people out there who don’t realise how big this initiative really is. It will help change the shape and culture of how we manage our airmen in the workforce, especially senior enlisted leaders,” WOFF-AF Swanwick said.

“Despite its title, it affects all enlisted airmen. It’s only been six months since CAF approved the decision brief and we are still implementing.”

CAF AIRMSHL Leo Davies approved the WOFF EC, which is one of the biggest reforms to the management and development of senior enlisted airmen.

The WOFF EC’s reforms will expand career opportunities, improve workforce flow and, most importantly, help create the WOFF Talent Management Framework, which includes a WOFF Tier Advancement Model and the establishment of the WOFF Talent Management Board.

WOFF-AF Swanwick encouraged members to further their careers by stepping outside of their trade and learning skills that were not part of their employment group.

Historically, Air Force might not have recognised such a career move, he said. However, to evolve towards a fifth-generation workforce, “we need to have broader, contemporary airmen”.

“We have to start to really invest in people’s education, training and professional development early in their career,” he said.

“Technical mastery is important, but what really gets us through life are the social aspects – how we lead, how we follow, how we look after our people – that is what we want to flow down [through the continuum].

“We need to better support airmen who broaden their skills. For example, if someone goes out for three years and does something different, as an organisation we need to encourage them to broaden their skills, and then have a better understanding of their professional and social mastery on their return.”

The most important task for WOFF-AF Swanwick in 2017 is supporting CAF’s Air Force Strategy 2017-2027 and its five vectors:

Joint Warfighting Capability, People Capability, Communication and Information Systems, Infrastructure, and International Engagement.

“We are all part of the strategy, we are all part of the vectors. The questions we have to ask ourselves on a daily basis are: ‘What can I do to help and be part of the strategy? How can I get involved?’ It’s a big job and we all have a part to play in it. As WOFF-AF, my main focus will be our people.

“People make the platforms and capabilities operate. Platforms are not fifth generation until you fire them up. To fire them up and to drive them you need skilled, smart people.

“That is why it is crucial to have the right people, in the right place at the right time – which is also the essence of the WOFF EC.”

‘He said one of the questions he is asked all the time is: What does the future airman look like?

“I can tell you, they probably won’t look like me and they won’t think like me, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

“We have to change the way we do things. It’s my job to create initiatives like the WOFF EC so that we can create our future fifth-generation enlisted leaders.”

To aid in the development of a fifth-generation Air Force, WOFF-AF Swanwick said an initiative was being created that would allow members who had great ideas to take them all the way to the CAF.

“We need to foster new and innovative fifth-generation thinking at all levels. What I am trying to develop this year, through the senior enlisted network, is a way that young airmen can elevate their innovative ideas into a space where people can start to work on them.

“We have a lot of smart people out there – ACs, LACs, LACWs, ACWs, CPLs. They have the answers for the future. I want to know how we move forward to 2025 and 2035. I want them to help transform the Air Force into that fifth-generation fighting force.”

A satisfying aspect of WOFF-AF Swanwick’s role in the past year was playing a part in fostering Air Force’s future leaders.

“It’s a great opportunity to interact and help develop future leaders going into command positions and command roles. They gain insight from Air Force’s senior leaders about how to lead from the top, but it is very important that they also understand how to lead from a follower’s perspective.”

High on WOFF-AF Swanwick’s agenda last year was tackling the stigma surrounding mental health and he said this would continue in 2017.

He was keen to investigate how Air Force approached and supported airmen around resilience and wellness, and how that links to the development and maintenance of good mental health. He said it was timely and interesting to note that Army had recently changed its soldier recovery centres to human performance wings.

“I have seen first-hand the big role that PTIs are playing in the development of new strategies to support airmen in building both physical and mental resilience. There are strong links between resilience and wellness, and the maintenance of good mental health. That’s something I’m keen to explore further this year.

Also on his radar is maintaining his strong relationships with RSM of the Army and Warrant Officer of the Navy, to generate and develop opportunities in joint training and professional development.

He said many personnel ask him: “What is my future in the Air Force?”

“I always answer: ‘We all have a future in the Air Force, but it might not be what we imagined when we started.’

“Since 1979, I’ve had 21 different roles over five musterings. Every few years I changed because Air Force needed me to. Being able to evolve and keep innovating is the key to being part of one of the most potent and recognised air forces in the world.”

By Lawrence Dutrieux