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Air Force's top enlisted: Roll call is back

Sep. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said Sept. 18 that beginning immediately, the Air Force has re-instituted a servicewide roll call. Pictured: Air Force Master Sgt. Anthony Cook, first sergeant for the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Medical Group at Buckley Air Force Base, conducts a final roll-call in preparation for the group's departure to Honolulu in 2010.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said Sept. 18 that beginning immediately, the Air Force has re-instituted a servicewide roll call. Pictured: Air Force Master Sgt. Anthony Cook, first sergeant for the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Medical Group at Buckley Air Force Base, conducts a final roll-call in preparation for the group's departure to Honolulu in 2010. (Master Sgt. John Nimmo Sr. / Air Force)
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Get ready to fall in: Air Force-wide roll call is back.

Beginning immediately, the Air Force has re-instituted a servicewide roll call, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said Sept. 18.

It will be up to front-line supervisors to decide how frequently to hold roll calls — some could be daily, others could be weekly or even monthly.

Cody said the change is a crucial step toward improving face-to-face communication within units and between airmen. Looking one another in the eye will strengthen the bonds between airmen in a way that online communication such as emails and Facebook posts cannot, Cody said.

“We have to do this,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing to do. This is how we’ll continue to care for our airmen, because we’ll know our airmen, because we spend time with one another.”

Some units, such as maintenance shops, already have a regular roll call to take their troops’ pulse, spread the word on new plans or requirements, and make sure they are understood. But the Air Force stopped requiring daily roll call in 1966, as the Vietnam War was ramping up. Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney McKinley revived a servicewide roll call in 2006, but it gradually faded away. Until now, roll call was largely replaced by commander’s call, which was introduced in the 1950s.

At commander’s calls, large groups meet to hear from their senior leaders about a wide range of topics. Roll call is a routine gathering of smaller groups, led by direct supervisors, that allows for a more intimate appraisal of how airmen are doing. In these meetings, supervisors can tell if their airmen have problems or concerns with a new policy, or have fully understood it, Cody said.

“You can’t get that through an email,” Cody said. “You can’t get that through a text or a tweet or a Facebook page. I might get some response that says you are acknowledging the information, but I don’t know whether I’ve communicated to you effectively on what we’re talking about. I haven’t made that connection, and that is what daily roll call is all about.”

Of course, it’s unlikely that enlisted service members will speak up and tell their commanding officer when they think a new policy is a boneheaded idea. But Cody said supervisors will benefit from seeing their airmen’s reactions when they hear about new policies, even if it’s only a nonverbal reaction.

“Just like, I’m sitting in a room, looking at you, you’re looking at me, and everything I’m saying, I’m getting feedback from you,” Cody said. “Whether you like it, or don’t like it, or whether you’re getting it or not.”

Cody said the Air Force is giving individual units wide leeway on how they structure their roll calls, because different units will have different requirements.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh last year began considering reviving a servicewide roll call as a way to bring airmen and their leaders together.

Airmen “want to know that their squadron commander or their chief or their [NCO in charge] or their branch chief believes in what they’re doing,” Welsh said in September 2012. “They want to ask questions about why it’s important. They want to understand where they fit in the process.”

Airmen’s reactions to the announcement on Air Force Times’ Facebook page were divided. Some thought bringing back roll call could improve discipline.

“Tell me why it is when I go to the chow hall I see so many airmen looking like a bag of ass,” a commenter named Jorge Reyes said. “If [their] front line supervisor had looked over their troop[s] they would not look like they do.”

But others are skeptical that roll call is even worth their time.

“We had them every Thursday, but it was the same redundant crap since they sent it thru emails what they were going to talk about anyways,” Sam Roman said. “Sometimes the meeting hindered us more than helped us. If you are in a [24-hour] ops that never closes, the roll call becomes useless.”

“Gathering people for roll call doesn’t institute a culture of caring,” Alexsa Billups said. “My people know I care about them because I know what their issues are and I follow up individually with them. If a roll call is about shop talk, we are missing the intent put forth in the message. We will see ... ”

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