Leading During Coronavirus: Goldfein’s Advice to Wing Commanders

Wing commanders are in for the challenge of their careers with the coronavirus outbreak, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein wrote in a March 13 letter to Total Force leaders.

“Commanding your wings when things are going well is a pleasure … but rarely remembered,” Goldfein wrote. “Commanding during a crisis is an opportunity for you, your Chief, and your spouse (or volunteer lead spouse) to rise to the occasion and lead through the storm. This is a time that will be remembered by all.”

More bases are reporting positive tests of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and sending Airmen and dependents into quarantine, with possible impacts to daily operations. Goldfein told wing commanders they need to start by working with their squadron commanders on their intent.

“They must maintain 100 percent contact with Airmen and families entrusted to your care,” he wrote. “Information flow is key and you can only do so much. Arm them and support them and you will set the conditions to win.”

Being truthful is important, and commanders need to be realistic in what to expect.

“Set proper expectations,” he wrote. “Your Airmen and families will appreciate candor, not coddling. We don’t know when this will end. We don’t know a lot. Don’t make things up. Tell them what you do know and share what you don’t. Not your job to fix this. Your job is to lead.”

Commanders need to stay calm to set the mood of their wings, because if they are frazzled, “you are part of the problem.” They need to speak with local leaders, state leadership, and health agencies.

“Where possible, you should build on the relationships already established to band together as one team,” he wrote. “Our families live, work, and play in the community. Now’s the time to work closely with Mayors, the Governor, and Inter-Agency teams to weather the storm. You are stronger together.”

The message included a central website for commanders to share information and lessons going forward.

“We completely trust you and appreciate your leadership during this difficult time,” he wrote. “COVID-19 is a worthy adversary. We must take it head on at every echelon of command. Fight’s on!”