Airman’s role brings career full circle
KARSHI-KHANABAD AIR BASE, Uzbekistan -- Staff Sgt. Robert Polanco shows Lt. Col. Donald Klinko areas where the security forces are guarding the flightline. Sergeant Polanco is assigned to 416th Expeditionary Mission Support Squadron's security forces flight. Colonel Klinko is the squadron's commander. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matt Rosine)
Posted 1/6/2005 Updated 10/24/2005
by Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
416th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
1/6/2005 - KARSHI-KHANABAD AIR BASE, Uzbekistan (AFPN) -- In September 1972, Donald Klinko stepped through the gates of Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., primed and ready for his new duties as a security police officer.
In a time when Vietnam and the Cold War were at their height, then Lieutenant Klinko would eventually become a missile security section and weapons convoy commander.
Some 32-plus years later, Lieutenant Colonel Klinko said his job, and experience, has in many ways come full circle.
Deployed here as the 416th Expeditionary Mission Support Squadron commander since September, he is in a former Soviet territory, an area of interest during the Cold War that chimes back to the days of his first Air Force assignment. But it is more than that.
The colonel, who is deployed here from Tinker AFB, Okla., is here for a different kind of war -- the war on terrorism -- where the enemy is elusive and everywhere, unlike the Cold War days.
“We’re in a different kind of war,” Colonel Klinko said. “We’re not fighting another country. We’re fighting a worldwide enemy. Afghanistan was once a staging base for transnational terrorism, and we stopped that. One hundred years from now, people are going to look back and say, ‘That’s when it all changed.’”
Colonel Klinko said he remembers the events of Sept. 11, 2001, very vividly. He remembers how it drove him to want to do more for his fellow Airmen and for his country.
As a matter of fact, he was activated from the Air Force Reserve within 10 days and assigned as a force protection and anti-terrorist adviser to the 513th Air Control Group commander at Tinker. Three years after that activation, he is now here supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
“To be honest, I should have been here a long time ago,” Colonel Klinko said. “Being here is the right thing to do.”
His job here is similar to that of a mission support group commander at a wing, with many career fields under his watch. But that is not unusual for a man whose experiences involve many career fields, including security forces, history and public affairs.
Overall though, Colonel Klinko said he considers himself a person who would be considered on the same level as his troops here, troops whose career fields range from security forces to personnel.
“I have probably the most complex squadron in the 416th Air Expeditionary Group,” Colonel Klinko said. “The only thing we don't have is the fire department and services -- those are run by a contractor.”
Colonel Klinko said that in his early days as a security police officer, he learned that “you don’t ever want to ask a troop to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.”
Such has been his philosophy to this day, as he has gone with two fly-away security teams to forward-deployed locations in Afghanistan.
He has always maintained his proficiency in the security forces career field and has expanded his knowledge about force protection, anti-terrorism, special operations and world history.
Colonel Klinko said all of his schooling, which also includes a doctorate of philosophy in history and Master of Arts degrees in history, would not amount to a hill of beans if he did not listen to his people.
“From being an Air Force historian, I have some understanding of a lot of career field missions,” he said, “but here and everywhere else I’ve been I've had to listen to the experts in each career field -- the flight commanders, senior (noncommissioned officers) and others. As a leader, you have to trust their judgment.”
He said challenges for leaders in a deployed base include the need for flexibility.
“In a wartime environment, you have to deal with the unexpected, whether it's shortages in something or otherwise,” Colonel Klinko said. “You can’t panic or get frustrated. You just have to do what you're trained to do.”
Most importantly, he said, as a leader you need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your troops, then “capitalize on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.”
“That’s a basic principle of leadership,” Colonel Klinko said. “It’s a principle that allows people to excel and best accomplish the mission.”
Colonel Klinko said the war on terrorism has brought together a melting pot of Guard, Reserve and active-duty forces from all services probably not seen at the same level since World War II.
“The Air Force has been practicing ‘total force’ since at least the 1950s when (there were) reservists flying daily missions,” he said. “Now, what we've seen across the board, there are citizen Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines doing more and more who are integrating into a great force across the globe.
“We see that here ... you wouldn’t know the difference unless you asked someone where (he or she was) from,” he said. “Total force is driving our success in meeting mission requirements. My troops in this squadron are a testament to that fact.”
Before he leaves, Colonel Klinko said he wants all of his troops here to know that this war is only won by the people who fight it.
“Our wars are won by people -- not procedures, not machines,” he said.