CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. --
No one cares what you know until they know that you care.
Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Neary, 21st Security Forces Squadron operations superintendent at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado, has lived by that motto for the 19 years of his military service.
“We talk about work-life balance and use a person walking a tightrope as a visual representation of that balance,” Neary said. “The problem with balancing work and life on a tightrope, you are always shifting from one side to the other, always struggling to keep balance, and at all times, one of the two sides is losing to the other.”
Neary explains how to blend work and personal life together in a way that they overlap as much as possible.
“If you have a graduation or an awards ceremony, invite your spouse and make it a date night,” Neary said.
Neary suggests if you have a task that needs to be completed by the next morning, avoid staying late and go home on time.
“I have found I am much less missed by my family and work center at 5:00 a.m. than 5:00 p.m.,” Neary said. “There are only 24 hours in a day, and we are responsible for using each hour as effectively as possible.”
Neary said he wouldn’t be where he is in his career if it wasn’t for the support of his wife, Nadia, and their two daughters, Maya and Megan.
Neary says Airmen should not fall into the trap of “Service First, Self Never.”
“You are only one person, and you can only do the workload of one person,” Neary said. “Recognize the limitations of only being one person, regardless of how many different hats you have to wear, such as parent, child, significant other, Airman.”
He explained how having a family opened his eyes to the idea of serving something and someone more than just himself.
“It wasn’t just about me anymore,” Neary said. “That service to others idea is what set the foundation of my leadership philosophy of taking care of Airmen.”
The military takes Airmen away from their families periodically for temporary duty assignments and deployments overseas. While Neary said being away from family is difficult, deploying can be an amazing opportunity.
“I have deployed three times and I had the opportunity to fully experience the tactical and expeditionary aspects of both security forces and the Air Force,” Neary said. “It allowed me to be part of history and interact with international cultures I otherwise would have never gotten to experience firsthand.”
When Neary was deployed to Iraq, he was assigned to a quick response force. During his time on the QRF, he captured a wanted enemy prisoner of war, cleared unexploded ordnance and responded to enemy rocket attacks. In Afghanistan he performed personal security details to secure election officials and ballots, allowing Afghanistan to have its first-ever free election.
At CMAFS, Neary is the operations superintendent for more than 90 defenders. His daily duties require him to ensure his Airmen have what they need to actively secure and protect the $18 billon, non-nuclear resources supporting three combat commands, Air Force Space Command and other various government agencies.
“My belief is that I work for the Airmen assigned to me by providing them the equipment, training, guidance and motivation to accomplish the mission,” Neary said. “If I am able to do that, they are able to accomplish their mission.”
The only shortcut to success Neary has ever found is having a mentor.
“While it is possible to figure it out on your own, it will take longer, cost more money and be much harder than if you had a mentor to help show you the way,” Neary said. “Ideally, you will want to find someone that has a mind of a warrior and a heart of a teacher.”
Neary has one mentor and friend that has stayed far beyond his retirement: Senior Master Sgt. Rocky Casto.
“I began shadowing under Senior Master Sgt. Casto when I decided I wanted to become a first sergeant,” Neary said. “I saw a leader who was amazingly dedicated to his Airmen, family, community and Air Force.”
Casto would run a 5K every morning. Throughout his run he would stop and pick up trash he saw blowing around the base, sometimes filling an entire trash bag.
“He even did it with a smile,” Neary said. “I was incredibly inspired by him and wanted to measure up to him one day. Even after I became a first sergeant, I would often reflect on issues and ask myself, ‘What would Rocky do?’”
Neary said his career wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns. In 2009, he played rugby on a team made up of Royal Air Force, U.S. Army and Air Force personnel.
“During a match, I suffered a major knee injury, resulting in two years of pain, surgery and physical therapy,” Neary said. “I was on medications, crutches and metal braces, and I struggled to do many physical tasks.”
His leadership was able to effectively employ him while his medical team rebuilt his knee strength and got him physically active again.
“The struggle taught me the importance of physical fitness,” Neary said, “As well as the impacts that an injury can have on a person’s mental state, personal life and professional career.”
The Air Force draws individuals from different cultures and background and provides Airmen the opportunity to learn and grow as a person and organization.
“My favorite part of being in the military is taking and getting to know my fellow Airmen,” Neary said. “Everyone comes with such an amazing story, and it is inspiring to hear the backgrounds of each Airmen I serve with.”