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Meet the commanders: 27th SOCPTS - Maj. John Forbes

  • Published
  • By Maj. John Forbes
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Note: This is part of a planned series of commentaries from commanders across Cannon Air Force Base


Sir Isaac Newton is attributed with saying, “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I’m sure each of you can vividly picture your own personal giants - those intrepid souls who measurably shaped the course of your life.  Our giants may not be large in stature, and it’s quite possible they will never know the true measure of their impact at the time, but nonetheless they stand as paragons of virtue without which we would be lesser mortals. 


The more success we have in life, the more likely it is that multiple giants - across years, if not decades - contributed to our growth and development.  I was born into a home wrecked by my father’s Vietnam-induced PTS. My life’s initial giant emerged in the form of a maternal grandfather who, without hesitation, opened his home to my mother and two-year old me.  Over the course of the next decade, this retired high school principal instilled in me the values of honesty and humility, as well as an intense desire to serve others. In addition, he provided us with a roof and three squares a day. The lessons weren’t planned out, and we never spoke of these attributes, rather his actions spoke volumes of how to be a man other would freely choose to follow.


Flash forward to the year 2000, at Edwards AFB, my first Air Force assignment as a young enlisted Airman.  Here, Tech. Sgt. Robin Nobriga served as the giant who set my fledgling career off on the right foot. Nobriga was more than a supervisor - he was a life coach, an inspirational speaker and pseudo-prison warden rolled into one.  He held us to high standards and demanded personal accountability.  One moment, he would chastise you for lazily asking a question without first researching the answer, then later offer the most thought-provoking quotes an 18 year old Airman Basic has ever heard.  My favorites include:

·       “where the head goes, the body follows” - a leader dictates the direction, pace and intent of the organization;

·       “perceptions are reality” - a reminder that emotional intelligence is vital, and a lack of EQ can mar even the best of intentions;

·       and perhaps my favorite Nobriga-ism, “you reap what you sow” - a quote from Galatians which reinforces the importance of ethics and hard work


Nobriga saw the potential in each of his Airmen and drove us to achieve dreams and aspirations we thought unattainable.


There are two other giants have served as bookends to my officer career thus far – Col. Mike Phelps, my first boss, and Col. Sam Grable, my most influential boss at the Pentagon.  These two couldn’t be more different in demeanor and presentation. 


Col. Phelps had the reputation as an extremely demanding, no-nonsense officer - particularly daunting for a second lieutenant in his first executive officer role.  However, I found that Col. Phelps merely valued honest, thoughtful input from his officers - not the sugar-coated “yes, sirs” reflexively offered by many to avoid his ire.  His trust wasn’t tied to your rank, rather it was based on your capabilities as an individual. 


Where Col. Phelps could be gruff, Col. Grable was polished and tactful. However, he was no less demanding when it came to the precision and professionalism required of an Air Force liaison to Congress.  At the highest levels of civil-military affairs, with billions of dollars at stake, there is little room for error.  For some, this fact easily justifies countless arduous hours in the Pentagon or on Capitol Hill.  Contrast to that, Col. Grable made it a point to depart at a reasonable hour each night to eat dinner with his family and to attend as many of his children’s games and events as possible.  This simple routine showed me that, while the job is important, there are fleeting opportunities to build and maintain a relationship with your family.  Balance made him a more effective husband, father and officer - and a giant worth emulating. 


Squadron command is not only an opportunity to lead an impressive Air Commando team, but is an opportunity to share the lessons that have forged me into the man and officer I am today.  If it’s true that, in due time, squadrons take on the characteristics of their commanders, then I look forward to seeing the traits of my giants resounding throughout the offices of the 27th Special Operations Comptroller Squadron and Wing Staff Agencies.