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Leading the Next Generation

Capt. John Griffiths

Capt. John Griffiths

February 2009 -- Is it me or are the Airmen in this organization getting younger every year? Perhaps I am just showing my age, but there are some differences between today's young Airmen and the way it was when I was coming up as part of the 180th TFG. Supervisors have expressed their frustrations: they ask way too many questions, they let their pants sag and they listen to their mp3 players constantly. As a schoolteacher I spend my days with teenagers, so it is no surprise to me that there are differences between people of different ages. They are, in fact, part of a new generation. 

There are four distinct generations in today's workforce: The Radio Generation, The Baby Boomers, Generation X and The Echo Boomers. 

The "Radio Generation" is comprised of those born before the end of World War II, and while many have retired from the military, a few remain in important leadership roles. 

Much of the senior leadership of our organization are "Baby Boomers." Born between 1946 and 1964, this generation is known for their strong work ethic and organizational loyalty. 

Following them is the smallest of the generations, "Generation X". This group is known for a strong sense of individuality, maintaining a balance between career and family, and the end of life-long dedication to one employer. 

The 70 million Americans that make up the next generation are the very ones that will soon rise through the ranks and assume leadership positions in the 180th Fighter Wing. They are called the "Echo Boomers," the "digital generation" or simply "Generation Y" and they represent the fastest growing segment of the workforce. Born between 1986 and 2005, this generation has been criticized for everything from short attention spans to taking longer to settle into established careers and relationships. 

But they are also likely to be better educated, more technically savvy, and more ethnically diverse. 

This is the generation that grew up with computers in the home, listening to compact discs with only vague memories of the cold war. Employers, including the military, have sought to understand these differences in order to best exploit the abundant talent this generation has to offer. Among their findings are reasons to believe
that the 180th Fighter Wing is an ideal and challenging workplace for this generation: Workers from Generation Y have high expectations of their employers. They want to be led by example, not be directed by order. It is far more Capt. John Griffiths
Maintenance Group Executive Officer By Capt. John Griffiths Maintenance Group Executive Officer valuable for them to witness their peers demonstrating excellence than reading about it. 

They have a need for ongoing learning. The upgrade training process, as well as professional military education opportunities provide continual opportunities for learning and career advancement. 

They desire immediate responsibility. Drill weekends can be frustrating and boring if Airmen are not given tasks that contribute to the mission and challenge their minds. Preparing for an Operational Readiness Inspection is the ideal time to give responsibilities to young Airmen. 

Are Airmen from Generation Y really all that different from those of us who remember working A-7s, wearing green fatigues, and keeping our hair in 35-10? We are more alike than different. In other words, this new generation is ideally suited to be an important part of, and eventually lead, our organization. Their Boomer parents have been telling them since the day they were born that they can do anything. Now it is up to us to train, mentor, and lead them so that they can.

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