SOUTHWEST ASIA -- There’s an old joke that points out the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad. The same can be true regarding deployments. Knowledge may come after a few years on the job, but wisdom comes after a career full of deployments.
Currently serving his ninth deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, Chief Master Sgt. Kelly Delaney, a 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, has plenty of wisdom to share from his 36-year career with the Air Force.
Since joining the service in 1981, Delaney has worked on a variety of C-130 models – everything from A models up to H's.
In addition to knowing the ins and outs of loading various models of the C-130, he has racked up significant combat experience as well. At 676 combat sorties, his career has taken him to the Middle East, Europe and Central America in support of various operations, including Inherent Resolve, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Desert Shield, Providing Promise and others.
“When we first got to Sarajevo, it was on fire. We landed at Sarajevo airport and all the glass was blown out and there were houses on fire; it was definitely a war zone,” said Delaney, recalling Operation Providing Promise. “I’ve been back into Sarajevo afterwards and all that is rebuilt now.”
Change is a common element of his career. Not only have the countries he once flew into evolved, but the Air Force as well.
There was a time early in his career when a C-130 cockpit would be so full of cigarette smoke you could barely breathe, Delaney said. However, one thing that has remained the same is the pride Airmen have in getting the work done to complete the mission.
“Taking pride in your work and the mission is probably the same,” Delaney said. “We’re key components of moving all the cargo.”
He’s also learned how to be a good leader and take care of his people throughout his career. His leadership style is modeled off of lessons he learned from role models he had early on as well as lessons he’s learned along the way, such as finding as much time as possible to get from behind the desk to interact with his team and find out what issues they’re facing firsthand.
“I learned from my boss, a senior master sergeant who later made chief, if as a non-commissioned officer you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you,” said Delaney.
For Delaney, this means ensuring other loadmasters thoroughly know their job, because there is a lot on the line and they can’t afford to make mistakes.
“As a loadmaster, you can crash that airplane as well as the pilot can if you don’t do your job right,” he explained. “I try to push them so that they know their job better.”
Additionally, he and the rest of the leadership divvy out responsibility as much as possible to help Airmen become better NCOs, said Delaney.
He advises Airmen at the beginning of their careers to take cues from the Air Force Core Values to build a successful career.
“They require you to do everything you can do to be the best you can be and I think you’ll get rewarded that way with your career,” he explained. “As long as you did your best at anything you do, you get the best satisfaction.”
The wisdom gained from a 36-year career as a loadmaster goes beyond simply knowing how to properly distribute weight on an aircraft. It’s knowing how hard to push your people, and how to afford them the best opportunities to expand their knowledge so that when it’s their turn to move into leadership positions, they too will be ready to demonstrate the difference between knowledge and wisdom in building a successful career.