Story by Heather Heiney
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Although Col. Thomas Falzarano is new to being the 21st Space Wing commander, he has called Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado and even the 21st Space Wing home before. He recently took time to talk with the 21st Space Wing Public Affairs office to share a little bit about himself, his priorities and his goals for his time as wing commander.
PA: So can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Falzarano: I’ve been in Colorado Springs on and off for almost 30 years, and I have my 25th reunion at the Air Force Academy coming up at the end of October. I’ve been fortunate to be around the space mission for about 23 years now and have gotten to see Airmen at bases around the world. It’s been exciting to see throughout my career how everything has grown and advanced from when I was a lieutenant to where we are now.
Peterson feels like home. All of my children have lived on Peterson during their life in either one, two or three houses. This is a great community with amazing people here on the Front Range.
PA: What are your priorities while you’re in command here?
Falzarano: The first priority that I’ve been doing over the course of the first month is talking to all of our Airmen, as well as their squadron commanders, group commanders and first sergeants to figure out what Airmen are seeing and experiencing, what their needs and requirements are and whether or not we’re hitting the mark on their expectations. Whether we adopt them as the priorities or not, I think there are three items we need to focus on – sustainability, building relationships and strengthening the culture.
There’s a lot of growth on the base. We’re standing up a new operations group, organizations around base are wanting to grow and our Airmen are asked to do more. So the first thing is to make sure we’re sustainable all the way from the organizational level across to our individual Airmen and that we have something that’s going to last…that our Airmen are built to last.
The second area we’re going to focus on is relationships. On a really bad day, having close relationships is going to be what carries us through. On a really good day, the relationships are the things that can make it outstanding because you’ve got people to celebrate with, and it’s even better because it’s a family or team accomplishment.
The final thing is strengthening the culture. Not to say that the culture is bad, but we want to make sure that we’re clear in communicating our expectations and that we’re clear in communicating that we have a culture of respect. We value people who take responsibility for their actions, and we value leaders who step up when something didn’t go right and correct it. We also value leaders who recognize when things go right and people do things that are really, really good. We value people that are ready, that we aren’t cramming for the test as we are getting out the do. We have an expectation that we do things the right way every day.
PA: Why are Respect, Readiness and Responsibility, your three R’s, so important to you?
Falzarano: I have used the same three R’s since I was a squadron commander. Everyone wants to know, does the boss have any rules? So I started out by asking myself, what are my red lines? When I look at the core values, they’re great. I don’t know an organization that has a better set of core values, but I think too often what happens is that folks describe them as the goal, but to me, they are the starting point. Respect is at the foundation of that, because once you lose that, then nothing else matters. The readiness part of it amplifies the core values. We want you to be ready at any given minute, not just when you’re scheduled for a PT test or an inspection. And then the responsibility part is making sure we’re properly holding people accountable for not only the things that go wrong, but the good things as well.
PA: What do you personally hope to bring to the wing?
Falzarano: My goal is to make sure that we’re looking at the foundation of what Peterson AFB is and we’re making sure that it’s solid. I want to make sure that, going forward, if there are any cracks, that we’ve shored them up and we’re turning a path toward sustainability. If we do it correctly, we’ll know we’re successful two, three and four wing commanders from now, and we’ll set those people up for success.
PA: What would you say is a challenge to that?
Falzarano: I think that the biggest challenge is our resources and being able to articulate precisely what it is that we need in terms of manpower and dollars. The other thing that’s going to be a challenge is the changing environment. There’s a lot going on in the space enterprise right now. The space warfighting domain is changing what we do in space, and we have to look at space differently and look at the people that operate these systems differently. Everything’s changing and organizations are changing and standing up and some are coming down and that takes a lot of leadership, a lot of expertise from the entire spectrum of people across the entire wing to figure that out. I can’t think of a more exciting place and time to be a new lieutenant or Airman. The opportunities are limitless
PA: Do you have any suggested reading?
Falzarano: You can learn from anything, it just depends on where you’re at in your career and what’s applicable to what you’re doing. The one thing I would say is don’t concentrate on any one particular area. There are some phenomenal leaders out across the entire enterprise of successful companies, and there are all sorts of great leadership lessons you can learn. Just pick something up.
That being said, we have a suicide crisis in our Air Force. One book I’d recommend in particular as we fight this war is: Why People Die by Suicide. On the leadership front, I find two books I continually refer to: Good to Great and Longitude. Good to Great offers an outline for highly successful leaders. Longitude is about innovation and why many times the best ground breaking ideas come from unexpected and unconventional people and places.
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Col. Thomas Falzarano, 21st Space Wing commander, poses for a photo Aug. 15, 2019 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Falzarano took command of the wing in May and has focused on sustainability, building relationships and strengthening the culture since his arrival. (U.S. Air Force photo by Heather Heiney)