Captain Russ Liechty

Current Law Student through FLEP and AFIT

Former Personnel Officer

Where did you see your career going when you were a cadet?

Originally, I considered a few different career options, primarily Intel and Public Affairs. Ultimately, I decided that while intelligence was the work I would most enjoy, it was not the most compatible for the needs of my family, so I ended up filling my dream sheet with PA first, Force Support (now Personnel) in the middle somewhere, and Intel last. When the Det/CC sat down with me to review me options, his eyebrows shot up and he exclaimed, “You wrote down Force Support?! It’s like watching paint dry!” An understandable reaction from a seasoned F-15 pilot, but hey, someone’s got to watch the paint dry.

Has it followed that path? How or how not?

For the most part it has, at least for the first few years.

My father was in the Air Force, as well as my two older brothers. All of us graduated from BYU ROTC. My dad started out as a manpower officer, and his career field combined with personnel (to be manpower & personnel). That field combined with the Services career field and was then re-labeled “Force Support,” and was later re-labeled simply Personnel (38P).

My older brother started as a Services officer, but of course is now 38P as well. My second brother began in Force Support.

By the time I came along, they must have seen another Liechty and said, “Throw him in with the rest of them!” So I was assigned as a Personnel Officer. Despite the Det/CC’s perspective, I really enjoy it. I was familiar with the career field, and knew what I was in for.

What do you like most about the Personnel (38P) career field?

There are a lot of perks about being a Personnelist. For starters, it’s one of the most conducive to family life: 0730-1630 are typical hours, with almost no night or weekend work.

Second, it’s one of the more “professional” career fields, by which I mean you work in an office-type environment and develop skills in Microsoft Office, customer service, and most importantly, leadership – all of which are skills that can be easily translated to a career after the military, whenever one decides that is.

Support fields like Personnel provide a unique opportunity to young officers for leadership of people. Pilots, for example, focus on training and flying, and don’t begin to supervise people until many years into their career, and then mostly junior officers. My first day on the job, freshly commissioned out of ROTC, I had a team 50 people that worked directly for me – enlisted of all ranks (E-1 through E-8) and civilians, both GS and NAF. I was able to utilize and hone a lot of the leadership skills gleaned in ROTC, and learned a lot more on the way. That trend of supervising large teams – and the opportunities for personal growth and development that came with it – has remained steady throughout my career so far.

What do you like least about it?

I believe that what my Det/CC meant to convey to me was that the Air Force really exists for its operational aspects – Ops Group (pilots, intel, etc). I would throw MXG in there as well. The stereotypes are that the Mission Support Group exists for the exact reason its name implies – to support the “real” Air Force (putting MSG at the bottom of the totem pole for coolness), and that MDG and Wing Staff Agencies like JAG and Chaplain aren’t really even part of the military.

So, given the Force Support Squadron’s position at the bottom of the totem pole, and especially as a customer service-oriented organization, some FSS-ers feel underappreciated, or like they’re not making a difference in terms of the AF’s operational mission. That’s not true, but it’s a struggle to combat that feeling among the MSG troops, especially FSS.

What advice do you have for future/current cadets as they pursue careers in the military?

The Air Force has so many opportunities available to its people. I would encourage cadets to keep an open mind to different career paths, to seek out and take advantage of additional growth and training opportunities, and help your troops do the same. You never know where the AF might take you.

What is your current assignment in the Air Force?

I have the privilege of being part of one of those opportunities. The Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) offers a lot of advanced degree programs and other trainings, both through its main campus at Wright-Patt AFB, OH, as well as paying for programs through civilian institutions. I am in career transition right now. FSS was great to me for 5 years, but last year I was selected for the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) through AFIT. That means that my job right now is to go to law school, after which I’ll become a JAG. Getting paid to go to school is competitive but very possible, and it’s about the best assignment anyone in the AF could ask for.

How did ROTC prepare you for your job now?

One of the main things I’ve had to learn – time and time again, from ROTC and throughout my career – is that you fly under the radar a lot less than you think you do. More to come on that below, but ROTC is crucial for incoming officers. Once you get to your first assignment, you are expected to know the structure of the Air Force, its history, and above all you are expected to be a leader. I had some difficulty with a MSgt who was insulted to have to work for a 2d Lt, and would often openly contradict me or act against decisions we made. It really hit home to me when my CC had to sit her down and counsel her, and he said, “no LT has as many years of service as a MSgt. That’s a given, and won’t change. But the Air Force is structured the way it is for good reason: as the SNCO, the LT relies on you for your technical knowledge and active duty experience in the career field – which no LT has yet. But the LT is not brand new to the Air Force. He comes from a rigorous program that has prepared him specifically to take the job of leading this unit, and is not brand new but currently has four years of Air Force leadership training and experience (ROTC) that have prepared him to be here and to lead.” Current cadets should remember that as they arrive to their first assignments – not to give them a big head and make them think they know it all, but to give them the confidence that the AF has entrusted them with decision-making ability and position because they have proven, through ROTC, that they belong there. There’s a lot to learn, of course, but ROTC is a solid foundation on which to build a leadership career.

Anything else you’d like to add?

 I just hope that cadets will take ROTC seriously. I didn’t at first. I frequently heard that ROTC isn’t like the real Air Force, and that things would be different on active duty. And that’s true. And because it’s true, for a while I was as minimally involved as possible in ROTC, tried to fly under the radar, and just wanted to get by. But I learned that my ROTC leadership – older cadets and all the cadre – knew exactly who I was and what I did and did not participate in. As I’ve progressed throughout my career so far, I’ve seen the same as Squadron leadership will sit down to discuss their people and how to help them grow. It’s obvious who the superstars are, and it’s obvious which ones think they’re flying under the radar but clearly aren’t.

I was blessed to come out of high school with a 4-year, type 7 ROTC scholarship. Then I finished my freshman year at BYU with an abysmal 0.78 GPA. I lost my scholarship, was dis-enrolled from ROTC, and placed on academic probation. When I returned to school after my mission, I did much better in school and ROTC, but still not my best. I re-joined ROTC (with no scholarship this time) and got by, thinking that I had it made because I was going to commission and that my career path was set.

However, as I decided to apply to law school and to AFIT programs, they all wanted my undergrad transcripts. They wanted recommendations from college professors. They wanted me to write memo’s feebly attempting to explain why I deserved to be part of their prestigious programs when I did so poorly as an undergrad, and did nothing noteworthy in ROTC. That was a tough sell, which is why it took me several years of applying (and more than that, several years of working my butt off on active duty so that I could prove through my AF record that I was worth their time) to be selected. I had to finish my master’s, have several years of excellent performance as an officer, and write a book before AFIT and other graduate programs would even look at me. I never imagined that my performance in college would stick with me for so long. I figured, a degree is a degree is a degree, and as long as I graduate and commission, I’d be fine. But my grades and hollow resume from that time – in ROTC and otherwise – have stuck with me and hindered my progress and opportunities ever since.

Luckily, I was able to recover. But I hope that cadets won’t have to go through that same process, and just start being “excellent in all we do” right now. You’ll be better off for it, your career will be better off, and when it comes time to apply for special opportunities, jobs, programs, or even to separate from the AF (voluntarily or not – which may happen), you will have prepared yourself professionally to take the next stage.