The 24 To 30: #3 – Jacob Dunbar

by Just Juan
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Today is October 3rd. In exactly 3 weeks, I’ll be celebrating a 30th birthday. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m in the last days of my 20s. For so long, I liked turning 30 with getting old but here I am, on the road to the landmark age. So far this month, I’ve written about 2 people in my feature on The 24 To 30: my mother and my late great-grandmother. Today, it’s the story of a guy who took a chance on a relatively unproven talent….today, it’s Jacob Dunbar.

THE BACKGROUND. Jacob Dunbar is typically known as Chief to most who come into contact with him these days. After all, he is a Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force. My history with him began in the Fall of 2008, when he arrived at Yokota Air Base as the new chief enlisted manager for the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron. When he introduced himself to the CES Force Management Office, we were left in awe when he rambled along about how important 3E6s—the Operations Management career field—were to the success of CE. The Japanese nationals in the office were very appreciative of his words as they often felt underappreciated by those at the top of the CES hierarchy at Yokota. Chief Dunbar, likely the result of his years of military experience and leadership, was an extremely disciplined guy. If you ever got a chance to have a conversation with him in his office, you’d be intimidated by what your eyes were seeing…the precisely pressed uniform (whether ABU, BDU, or service), the shine on his boots, the symmetrical alignment of all his plaques and coins throughout the space, the attentiveness he showed in the conversation as his eyes never turn away. Chief was a career civil engineer and he took pride in the fact that the type of work we did in the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron was unlike anything else done on base. Something he used to always say at commander’s call or other functions where the entire organization was present was “in CE, we don’t do that sexy stuff…we do the important stuff”. When it came to physical fitness, he was the type of guy who never tired out or got fatigued. I remember one occasion where I was testing on the 1 ½ mile run and I was cruising at a blistering pace though I was tiring on the back end…this guy came hauling ass past me saying “come on young gun, get them legs moving”. He led the charge during squadron PT and was always the first at the gym and the last to leave. He had an extreme focus on us being physically fit in order to fulfill our duties as “combat engineers”. Chief was also a strategic mastermind in contingency situations. I remember working a night shift with him during a January 2009 CBRNE exercise and he had a detailed plan and approach for everything that could possibly happen…including the throwing of the kitchen sink. It was during that particular exercise that I first landed on his radar. I was the senior 3E6 on the shift and I think I impressed him with the way I ran my part in the C2 operation…the way I communicated with the force in the pressure moments, my attention to detail regarding the scenarios. I also think that he was equally impressed with the way I kept my cool under real world pressure during the earthquakes, the volcano eruption, or that one time we had a basewide heating outage, a major facility fire, and a major waterline break at the same time. Eventually, I gained his trust as far as doing my job efficiently and effectively and that went a long way. I remember an instance during an October CBRNE exercise, the 374th Mission Support Group Commander sent me a direct email, skipping the entire chain of command between me and him, regarding the protocols for facility management as I was installation’s facility management coordinator—or “the facilities expert” as he put it. Though I had an immediate answer ready for the MSG/CC, I was only a Senior Airman and at that rank, you don’t reply back to a full bird colonel without a bunch of people on the CC and BCC lines of that email. The first person I talked to was Chief Dunbar as he was sitting next to me when I received the email. He looked at the email and said, “he wants the answer from the expert…if he wanted it from somebody else, it would’ve came from somebody else…just reply”.  When my peers in CES selected me as the 2009 Airman of the Year, it was Chief Dunbar who told me that I had a chance to be one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year…and he was almost right. Chief was the first person to congratulate me when I finally broke through and ascended to the rank of staff sergeant. He was a stand-up guy as far as I’m concerned.

THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. When it comes to moments of impact concerning Chief Dunbar, there is only one: the chance he took on me. It was on February 18, 2009…not long after that January CBRNE exercise. Chief, himself, walked to my cubicle and said “Thomas, I know you’re about 3 months from terminal and 5 months from the door but I need you in December”. He mentioned how the senior-ranked person in my office was deploying and there was no inbound replacement for him during his deployment or for me as I was on my way out of the military after 6 years. He said he’d understand if I decided to continue on with my plan to get out but he noted that I would be a key to the squadron’s success during the December compliance inspection and that there was no other person in the squadron who could step in immediately and keep the “ship floating” with our leader in the desert. Of course I told him that the 2 youngsters I was training would be ready and that they’d be enough but he told me that he needed “the best available” for whatever the evaluators would throw at us in the winter and to bridge the gap. Two weeks later, I decided to sign a 4-year re-enlistment agreement coinciding with a 1-year assignment extension. I was locked in to the squadron long enough for the inspection and a transition phase until our senior-ranked person returned from deployment. Chief, for his part, refused to bring in a non-commissioned officer from one of the other career fields. He essentially gave me the keys to office and the opportunity to lead for the first time in my career. It was a high risk move as the decision meant planting a Senior Airman of only 6 years total experience in one of the most important positions in the organization. But, thanks in large part to the chip on my shoulder from the years I was forced to be an understudy “holding the playbook”, I thrived in the new role and easily won the Samurai Airman of the Year Award as a result.

HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. Before Chief approached me in regards to extending my time at Yokota for that compliance inspection, I was just a regular Operations Manager. I was 24 and I had spent almost all of my career buried deep down on the totem pole. In that particular instance, I was the #2 guy in the office but I had 12 years less experience than the senior guy. The only thing that worked in my favor regarding Chief’s decision was my knowledge of the career field and the performance from a month earlier in a contingency situation. For 3 frustrating years at Moody Air Force Base, rank relegated me to the bottom of the pecking order in the office and I was forced to spend a vast majority of my time reading the regulations and observing the work of those higher in rank. The knowledge I took in and the experience of seeing the mistakes of others before me allowed me to step in and lead right away. All I needed was a chance and Chief gave it to me. And because of that, I feel that I can accomplish anything and everything set before me if given the opportunity to do so.

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