Airlifter of the Week: Leading, one lesson at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
For one of Ramstein’s very own, servant leadership began early in an Airman’s career.

In 2005, then-Airman 1st Class Hollie McCaleb, an Honor Guard member assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, was the lead for a detail honoring a soldier killed in action. It was McCaleb’s duty to present the U.S. flag and recite military honors to the soldier’s family.

“It’s always tough,” he said. “But the goal is to always maintain your military bearing.”

So McCaleb did.

He helped fold the flag which covered the soldier’s casket and turned to the widow to give her the flag. But then she requested something he didn’t expect. She asked him to give the flag to her son, an 8-year-old who had been crying for the entirety of the funeral process.

This was something the young Airman wasn’t prepared for. McCaleb gathered himself, turned to the young man, and presented the flag and military honors.

“I think I cried the whole way back to Arkansas,” McCaleb said. “But you know, that’s something that the family will never forget.”

Now Master Sgt. Hollie McCaleb, 86th Maintenance Squadron C-130J inspections section chief, argues leading others is more than a job, it’s about helping people connect with others.

McCaleb began his military career in 2004 as a maintainer at Little Rock AFB before his assignment to the base honor guard from 2005-2006. After a short time, he became the head instructor for the team.

“When you’re able to be put in a position to be in charge of people who outrank you as an A1C ― even officers ― it’s kind of eye-opening,” McCaleb said. “I had to train these people because they’re going to go on and train other people. And that really epitomizes what we do in the Air Force.”

McCaleb recommends any Airman to join the honor guard because of the lessons it taught him about leadership, pride and discipline.

After returning to the maintenance career field and working at Little Rock AFB for nine years, McCaleb went back into the training environment as an aerospace propulsion technical training instructor assigned to the 361st Training Squadron at Sheppard AFB from 2013 to 2017. His time as an instructor taught McCaleb humility.

“Talking to people like adults and treating them like adults is the only proven way that works for everyone,” McCaleb said. “Not everyone will respond effectively by belittling them or talking down to them. And I was that guy before I became a technical instructor. I probably didn’t earn the respect of my first few subordinates.”

Both jobs helped McCaleb when he was given orders to move to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and eventually become inspections section chief. McCaleb credits his past experiences and mentors for teaching him to ask questions and address problems right away.

“It’s still not always a perfectly paved road,” McCaleb said. “You’re not always just going to automatically click with people and get through to them, but I’ve been blessed that the people I work with are all awesome people.”

Since becoming inspections section chief, he helped reduce the time it took to complete their job by 1,400 man hours annually, resulting in a 43% increase in the number of isochronal inspections completed on or before their scheduled due date. On Jan. 14, McCaleb was recognized by leadership for his achievements with Airlifter of the Week, and coined by Col. Matt Husemann, 86th Airlift Wing vice commander and Chief Master Sgt. Ernesto Rendon, 86th AW command chief.

However, McCaleb remained humble. It wasn’t about his achievements or his past 16 years in the Air Force. For McCaleb, it’s about shining the spotlight on his fellow Airmen’s work.

“There are a number of people, all the way up through the maintenance group, who are so on board with improving processes and helping people succeed and do better,” McCaleb said. “It’s just really cool to be part of such a supportive team. Those are things I’m definitely gonna miss when I leave here.”