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Fighting for "Yes": An interview with the new 489th Bomb Group Commander

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Story by MSgt Theodore Daigle on 08/02/2019
Col. Christopher Hawn was named the new commander of the 489th Bomb Group July 13, 2019. The Scottsdale, Arizona native has been on the go since leaving home to attend the Air Force Academy more than twenty years ago. Since transitioning to the Air Force Reserve, Hawn has focused his sights on the two things most important to him, family and the Air Force. He took time from his busy schedule to field questions about his career, leadership style, and vision for the future of the unit.
Q: First things first, tell us a little about your background. More specifically, tell us your motivation for joining the Air Force.
I've always been fascinated with flying. So, midway through high school when people were asking me what I wanted to do with my life, I kept saying I wanted to fly airplanes. At the time, that didn't seem compatible with the idea of going to college and getting a job, which was considered the next logical step in my home. I had to find a way to match my desire to fly with college. Pursuing the Air Force Academy seemed like the most obvious option.
Once I got there, I realized very quickly that there was a lot more to it than just flying. They started layering all the aspects of military life; many of those aspects most notably the people are what have kept me in this long. By the time I left the Academy, I still passionately wanted to fly, but I also had a deep sense of patriotism, loyalty and commitment fostered over those four years.
Q: Was the desire to fly something you learned from family or some other influence in your life?
A: No. Both my parents are veterinarians. I have an uncle who served in the Air Force briefly as a physician and some distant relatives who flew aircraft in WWII, but I never really knew any of that until after I'd joined the Air Force. So, there was no immediate military background in my family to inspire me to pursue this path. It was just something in me growing up that went from an interest to a fascination to a dream.
Q: You served more than 18 years on active duty before transitioning to the Air Force Reserve. Why did you cross over at that point in your career?
My first ten years I was a bachelor, enjoying everything the Air Force could throw my way. I got married in 2010 and took a fork in the road in my career, moving away from operations and serving at the Pentagon for a year and then becoming a student (U.S. Army Command and General College then the School of Advanced Military Studies). During that time, family became first and foremost in my life. It became apparent my path on active duty was going in one direction and my heart was going in another. At that point the 489th Bomb Group was standing up and I was given the opportunity to join the Reserve. It looked like a good off ramp to still serve, but be more in control and strike a better balance between career and family. It was a huge gut-check that late in my career, but I trusted the people in the unit to take care of me and I assured them I wasn't coming here just to loiter and fade out. I wanted to step up to the plate and swing the batto be relevant and value-added.

Q: Now that you have taken command, how would you describe your leadership style?
First and foremost, I try to live by a simple but meaningful mantra, one that I borrowed from the time serving in the weapons school. That is, I want to be credible, humble and approachable. I believe this mantra aligns well with the Air Force core values. If you don't have integrity and don't strive for excellence, then your credibility is certainly in question. If your service is not selfless, I'd argue that your humility is in question. Credibility and humility are incredibly important in this profession. Credibility is all about knowing your trade and affording your fellow teammates the confidence to have unfettered trust in your expertise and reliability.
Humility is all about acknowledging your shortcomings, affording others the confidence that their contributions matter. This is especially true in my new role in knowing that the people around me bring a lot of value to this unit and I can learn a great deal from them.
Finally, with respect to approachability, you can be the most humble and credible person in the room and still not be truly effective. You have to be approachable as well. If people can't come to you for help, insight, and mentorship, then you are not really an effective leader.
I also believe firmly in a fight-for-yes ethos. It is all too easy to say "no" to a request and find ways to reinforce that answer. I'd rather say "yes" and fight for that answer. By and large, if you really scrutinize most situations, really peel back the layers of the onion, you can find a way to get things done.
I also subscribe to a defense-in-depth philosophy. No one person should be a single point of failure in an organization. This is especially true in the Reserve. When you have part-time service members and full-time service members, the ability to keep the mission trucking along with one or the other absent is crucial.
Finally, I'm a firm believer in empowerment. Empowering people gives them the chance to own something and gain increased confidence in their abilities. It's about development and trustand yes, some risk. I often tell folks that if you fear failure, you'll never succeed. You've got to be willing to try and failto smartly push the envelope. If you fail, you learn and move on. If you succeed, what a rushwhat an incredibly fulfilling experience that is! So I've got a healthy tolerance to risksimply because the upside of success far outweighs downside of failure.
Q: What is your vision for the 489th Bomb Group?
One thing I'm very proud of in the B-1 community is the almost insatiable desire to make the mission happen. It is a very innovative community; a fight-for-yes community. There have been many times when they should have not been able to accomplish the mission. Somehow, they always found a way. They always got to "yes".
I think the B-1 is sitting on the verge of some exciting times. There are whole chapters of its story still waiting to happen. I'm very optimistic there is a long and relevant future ahead for the jet and this community, and I believe the Reserve will play a big role. I want the Reserve to be the experts of the entire B-1 enterprise.
Q: Any parting thoughts?
I'm laser focused on my priorities, family and the Air Force. The Air Force Reserve has given me a great opportunity to focus on both. I know there will be times when it will be tough to maintain that balance, but I am pleased with the opportunity it has given me so far.
I'd also mention how humbled I am to have this opportunity. I certainly did not expect it, but I'm not one to shy away from a challenge. I simply want to remain relevant and value-added. I plan to step up to the plate every day and swing for the fences to do the best job possible for the people and the mission of the 489th Bomb Group.


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