Meet your leadership: 39th MDG commander, Col. Thomas A. Bacon

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- The 39th Air Base Wing units are led by hand-picked commanders here and at geographically-separated groups and squadrons across the region. This series of features gives an inside look at those leaders and their leadership style. This feature highlights the 39th Medical Group commander, Col. Thomas A. Bacon.

Question: Why did you decide to join the Air Force and why do you continue to serve?

Answer: I took the Air Force officer oath on Jan. 4, 1991 during Operation Desert Shield and arrived at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas on March 25, 1991 for Medical Indoctrination for Medical Service Officers after Operation Desert Storm.  So, like many Airmen today, patriotism was the main reason I joined. I also valued quality of life issues, travel opportunities, career ladder options and the military retirement program. I have stayed in the Air Force for all the same reasons. In addition, I have the added bonus of serving my nation through the various opportunities the Air Force gives me to lead and mentor others.

Question: What is one of your proudest achievements in your military career?

Answer: Being selected as the 39th Medical Group commander is the culmination of many years of hard work and I consider it the highest achievement in my military career. I've enjoyed many milestones throughout my career, but the opportunity to lead and serve Airmen medics that diagnose and treat our most complex and valuable weapon system, the human body, is a great honor. 

Question: Is there a leader from your career that influenced you the most? If so, who, and how did they affect the way you lead?

Answer: I don't have just one leader from my career that I can point to as having influenced me the most. I have observed and learned from all of them what to do and what not to do. I had colonels early in my career that allowed me, as a lieutenant, to stand up new processes and procedures that bettered our operations.They encouraged, supported and valued my ideas based on my civilian experience and not my rank. I learned at my next assignment that all military officers are not created equal. I had a boss that allowed his personal bitterness toward the Air Force affect his attitude and the morale in the section. From another boss I learned that you always tell the truth no matter how bad the answer may sound or the results may be.  I also learned an unfortunate lesson from one mentor that was a workaholic that if you neglect your wife and family and place them behind your career you may lose both before reaching the 'brass ring' you had been striving for all along.

In the end, I've learned to strive for balance in my personal and professional life. Leadership requires more listening than talking and you can't effectively lead people by sitting behind your desk. I found out that you can be selected for colonel and still have a wonderful relationship with both your spouse and children. I also know that leadership is not based on someone's rank, gender, ethnic background, or personality type. Good leadership starts with ownership and a passion to make a difference. Leadership, or the ability to influence someone, is first and foremost based on trust and the best way to gain trust is to show those you are leading that you truly care for them. 

Questions: Leaders often face a significant challenge or watershed moment early on in their careers that influence their formation as leaders. Did you have any moments like these that helped shape you into the leader you are today?

Answer: In my first assignment as a young lieutenant, I was wise enough to listen and learn from a retired chief master sergeant that had returned to work as a general schedule employee. He showed me the 'ropes' when it came to being an officer first and medical professional second. He also showed me the value of the enlisted force and what they bring to the mission each and every day. He reinforced my parents' instruction of treating everyone with respect and that there is wisdom in multiple heads regardless of one's background or educational level. 

Question: What is your personal mission statement?

Answer: John 3:30 says, "He must increase but I must decrease." The attitude of John the Baptist is the same attitude I want to have here on earth. I believe the whole end of man is to bring glory to God. I believe the way for me to do that is by adhering to the moral and ethical principles that he gave us and by being a man of character. I associate this very closely to the Air Force core value of Integrity. When I work, I work as unto him and not unto men (Colossians 3:23).That makes me want to work harder which mirrors the Air Force core value of excellence in all we do. When I interact with other people, I want to see them and serve them as he would have done (Matthew 14:14). By putting others before myself (similar to the Air Force core value of service before self) it makes me a better listener and leader.Therefore, by serving my nation and in turn the people that serve her I feel I am able to partially fulfill my personal mission statement. The rest I am able to fulfill through my various titles of: Husband, Dad, Son, Brother, Friend, Church member, etc.

Question: What are your leadership goals as a commander while here at Incirlik?

Answer: The 39th Medical Group was recognized as the Air Force Clinic of the Year in 2014, so the group has already shown what they are capable of achieving. I want to keep that standard of excellence in medical care up as we prepare for the dynamic environment we live in. In the first 48 hours of my arrival in Turkey we have experienced both an earthquake and travel restrictions due to local safety concerns. We, as medics, need to be able to provide the best medical care to all our patients whatever circumstances we are given to operate in.

Question: What are some of your expectations for the Airmen you lead, and why?

Answer: I expect the Airmen to remember the Air Force core values every day and in each decision that they make both on and off duty.  I need them to remember that each patient encounter is unique so they need to focus on listening to each patient, and treating them how they would treat their "kid and their grandma." This is not their parents or grandparents Air Force.  This is our Air Force. We need to treat the Air Force as 'owners,' not 'renters.' Our motivation to serve in the Air Force shouldn't be for what we can get out of it (i.e. scholarship repayment, steady jobs, or great benefits) but we should be motivated to treat it as 'owners' or stewards of the American people. We should be careful of our resources and make it better before we leave it to the next generation.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Answer: Thanks for this opportunity to share my thoughts and a little bit about myself.  I consider it a great honor to be selected as the 39th Medical Group commander and I will do my best to serve the medics here so they can take care of all our beneficiaries and their medical needs.