Meet your leadership: 717th Air Base Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Manny Cohan

Lt. Col. Manny Cohan, 717th Air Base Squadron commander, speaks with Lt. Gen, Darryl Robertson, 3rd Air Force commander Aug. 19, 2014, Ankara, Turkey. The 717th ABS is one of two geographically-separated units under the 39th Air Base Wing. (courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. Manny Cohan, 717th Air Base Squadron commander, speaks with Lt. Gen, Darryl Robertson, 3rd Air Force commander Aug. 19, 2014, Ankara, Turkey. The 717th ABS is one of two geographically-separated units under the 39th Air Base Wing. (courtesy photo)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- The 39th Air Base Wing Geographically Separated Units are led by hand-picked commanders located throughout Turkey. This series of features gives an inside look at those leaders and their leadership style. This feature highlights the 717th Air Base Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Manny Cohan.

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

Answer: There are several reasons.  One of the founders of the city I grew up in was Glenn H. Curtiss, so as a result, the City of Hialeah had a strong aviation influence and many of my neighbors were aircraft mechanics and some even served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.  The men I looked up to taught me the value of serving my country and being able to repair just about anything.  It was only natural that I would join the Air Force as an enlisted F-16 mechanic.  Three years after I joined, an opportunity presented itself for me to gain my commission through ROTC.  I continue to serve because I love the comradery, the many challenges each assignment offers, serving my fellow Airmen and serving the country I love.

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

A: In 2002 when I was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Central Command. I was selected to be part of a small team charged with designing and standing-up the USCENTCOM Forward Headquarters.  The purpose of the CFH was to give Gen. Tommy Franks, then USCENTCOM commander, and his staff command and control in the area of responsibility.  The team of five led by Col. David Pelizzon, was given nine months to design, build, test and deploy the forward headquarters that on Mar. 20, 2003, provided Gen. Franks with the needed C2 to direct combat operations in Iraq.  I was very happy to be part of a winning team that ensured U.S. and allied forces would have the decisive upper hand against Saddam's military.  

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

A: Without a doubt, it's Col. Charles "Whitey" Whitehurst.  I was Col. Whitehurst's executive officer at the 607th Air Support Operations Group in Osan Air Base, South Korea so I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be around him and take in all of his great advice and suggestions on leadership style.  Col. Whitehurst was the type of leader that got into everyone's skin exuding positive energy and optimism---by far, he was the group's best cheerleader.  He believed in establishing trust with candor and transparency throughout the organization.  He was a firm believer in empowerment and getting Airmen's "head in the fight."  I never saw him go after someone for trying and failing.  But I did see him go after the dead wood a few times.  Today, I carry much of Col. Whitehurst's leadership style and when confronted with a challenge, I often ask myself "What would Whitey do in a similar situation?"         

Q: 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?

A:  When I was Senior Airman and F-16 mechanic, Master Sgt. Mike Johnson taught me that before I can be a leader, success is all about growing yourself.  He always promoted hard work and continuous education.  He would often ask where we were in completing our CDCs.  Furthermore, he told me that when I become a leader, success is all about growing others.  On the flight line, Mike was meticulous.  He would check up on us to ensure we were following the technical orders, safety standards, using the right amount of torque on the fasteners and, on occasion, he would check for the correct numbers of twists per inch on the safety wire.  Master Sgt. Johnson taught me the value of "Excellence in All We Do" and that the Devil's in the details.

Q: What is your personal mission statement?

A: Above all, be true to the unit's mission and excellence in all I do.

Q: What values and ethics are the most important you, and what do you expect from your Airmen?

A: The Air Force's core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do are the glue that keeps our service together. They must be internalized by all.  I expect every brain in the game and for my Airmen to look ahead and take risks that will benefit the Air Force.

Q: What is your strategic vision for your organization?

A: To support the wing commander's strategic vision by making the 717th Air Base Squadron a unit that effectively enables an environment where the military and diplomatic instruments of power come together!

Q: What are your leadership goals as a commander while here at Ankara?

A: There are four: 1) Mission:  The Air Force exists to fly, fight and win in air space and cyberspace...that's job number one!  2)  People:  People are our greatest asset and deserve the best leadership and equipment we can give them.  3)  Integrity:  We must be able to count on each other to say what we mean and do what we say.  4)  Courage:  Moral and physical courage are essential to an operation.  We must always be ready to sacrifice for each other and our nation.  Furthermore, we must be willing to stand up for what we believe is right, even if that stand is unpopular.

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

A: I expect members of the 717th Air Base Squadron to perform as a fine-tuned orchestra...and they do!  Teamwork is the centerpiece of our operations.  Our ultimate success or failure truly relies on this concept.  I also expect members of the 717th to have the initiative to take advantage of every situation, to improve processes and strive to be better every day.  There are daily improvements at the 717th.

Q: What are your mission expectations from the unit you lead?

A: I want my Airmen to realize just because I'm the commander doesn't mean I'm the source of all knowledge.  I want the members of my unit to have initiative, perform research by reading Air Force Instructions, TOs or other available information, to openly identify problems and work as a team towards the continuous improvement of our operations. 

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

A: When I was an Airman 1st Class at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, our leadership challenged us to cut cycle time in our F-16 drop-tank assembly process.  Master Sgt. Mike Johnson assembled the team of approximately 30 mechanics to come up with ideas.  His motto was "every brain in the game."  He knew that regardless of rank or age some people have better ideas than others; some are smarter or more experienced or more creative and everyone should be heard and respected.  In the end we took the best ideas and made significant improvements to our drop-tank assembly process.  Every brain in the game!