Master Sgt. Douglas Earl is married to the Air Force, but not to how the Air Force does business.
When Earl arrived at Goodfellow Air Force Base two years ago, his team began pre-emptively tutoring military members training to become language analysts. Helping students before they fail has saved the Air Force more than $560,000 to date.
His supervisor says his leadership “revolutionized” how students are readied for missions across the Arab world. A more agile approach that incorporates cultural references helps students better understand the intelligence they decipher.
And he’s boosted instructors’ morale by tweaking shifts so they can get home in time to eat dinner with a spouse or tuck a child into bed.
Sgt. Earl says his team has accomplished this by embracing the Air Force tenet of centralized control, decentralized execution. His superiors give him the goal; he has the freedom to achieve it.
“It’s prideful and full of hubris if I pretend I have the exact right answer for every single scenario,” he said. “If I empower them to execute on their own, but all responsibility for it falls back on my shoulders, that’s how I see leadership.”
A former Texas state high school debate champion, Earl, 36, talks articulately, persuasively and in rapid fire fashion. He exudes confidence.
That wasn’t always the case. He joined the Air Force at 24, having lost interest in college. He realized he needed a challenge that would instill discipline.
“I thought the Air Force could give me that,” he said.
Still, when given his training assignment – learn Arabic – he thought, no way.
“Turns out I was wrong,” he said. “The system we have set up helped build that discipline inside of me. And it’s made me successful in a lot of facets of life.”
He has since earned the Air Force’s top award for a language analyst who’s in mid-career. Having promoted to master sergeant, Earl now aims at growing his leadership and its impact.
“Every single day I put on my uniform and I know I get to go make a difference,” Earl said. “Every day is special.”
So, too, he said, is the bond between San Angelo and its air base. That’s evident in the Goodfellow Volunteer Fair he helps organize to connect the base’s 4,000 students with worthy local causes.
He also presides over the Goodfellow Top 3, a private group of senior non-commissioned officers who contribute to community efforts whose impact is “immediate and powerful.”
“The idea is about us coming together to make sure people know that as military members, we’re invested in this community, too,” Earl said.
Interestingly, Earl has served twice under Goodfellow’s last commander, Col. Michael Downs. He seeks to emulate Downs’ way: the mission is important, but it’s accomplished by people who need nurturing and encouragement.
“I can give lip service to caring about people,” Earl said. “But if I don’t get out there and care about who they are and what they do, it’s not real leadership.”