413th FTG commander reflects on first year, way ahead

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  • 413th Flight Test Group Public Affairs

Approximately a year ago, Col. Christopher Zidek stood in front of Brig. Gen. Steven Parker, 22nd Air Force vice commander, and recited the ceremonial phrase, “Sir, I assume command,” in a hangar full of 413th Flight Test Group Reserve Citizen Airmen. With those four simple words, Zidek became a first-time unit commander.

Since then, he’s expended his efforts to take the group to new heights, and recently, he took some time to answer a few questions regarding his first year as commander of the 413th FTG and where the unit stands today.

Question: Reflecting on your first year as commander of the 413th Flight Test Group, what are your overall thoughts on where the unit is right now?

Answer: We have made tremendous progress. Just like a winning sports team, it starts with putting the right people in the right positions at the right time. In the last 12 months, we have hired some exceptional people who have really helped to elevate our entire organization.

Question: The unit recently revamped its mission, vision and priorities. Why was strategic alignment a major focus area?

Answer: The strategic alignment served as a roadmap for us to come together and identify where we want to be in the next two to three years. Foundational to this was a review of our mission, vision and priorities. When I first took command, I quickly saw that we had some work to do in this area to better capture who we are, what we do and how we’re going to get where I want to go. Now, we have that direction, and it’s exciting to watch the team move this effort forward.

Question: What have been some other unit successes since you’ve taken command?

Answer: The first thing that comes to mind is the hiring of our new group superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Gwyn, and first sergeant, Master Sgt. Teresa Lapcheske. I can’t tell you how amazing they both are! They do so much behind the scenes, putting in long hours and investing in the lives of our Airmen. In the short time they’ve been here, it’s clearly evident to me they are a wonderful addition to the 413th family.

Question: What have been some of the challenges we’ve encountered over this past year?

Answer: Two things: communication and continuous process improvement. With the structure of the 413th FTG being mostly geographically separated units and us serving two major commands, conveying a clear, concise message to both subordinate units and HQ presents its own set of challenges. What I say sometimes is not always what is heard; therefore, I look for ways to better transmit my message to avoid confusion. With process improvement, like any organization, we continue to look for methods on how to better streamline what we do. It really boils down to enhancing mission execution, optimizing resources and improving customer service for our GSUs. Thankfully, we have a tremendous process manager, Yvonne Rutherford, who has taken a proactive approach in helping mature the group’s CPI efforts.

Question: What has been the biggest surprise and/or most memorable moment since taking command of the unit?

Answer: I don’t think I’ve had one particular moment that sticks out, but rather a string of them that together, bring me joy. Whether it’s a promotion, reenlistment, retirement or even visiting a newborn baby, it’s about celebrating those special moments in peoples’ lives. That means the world to me as a commander.

Question: What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a commander that you’ve had to put into practice?

Answer: Expect the unexpected. I pass that advice to anyone who serves in a leadership position, regardless of rank. I’ve had people walk in my office at 4 p.m. on a Friday and deliver news that you couldn’t make up if you tried. You’re never going to be ready for every situation which comes through your door, but knowing what resources are available and who to call is really the important takeaway. Being a commander comes down to always putting your people first … that’s a 24/7 job.

Question: You’ve been a part of the 413th FTG in the past, but what’s something new you’ve learned or recognized again about the unit and its people?

Answer: Having been a part of the 413th FTG off and on since 2004, two things stick out. First, when it comes to our mission sets, we are a much more diverse organization now. We don’t just fly airplanes anymore. A few years ago, we gained an aeromedical staging squadron and a force support flight, both of which bring added capability. Second, when it comes to people, we have really recruited some exceptional talent across the board. You see it demonstrated, every day, whether it’s conducting an elevated-risk functional check flight, an aeromedical staging exercise, clinic work or a visit to our award-winning force support team. For me, it’s about finding little ways to appreciate our people and acknowledging the work they do.

Question: With what we’ve accomplished so far, what will the next year look like for the 413th FTG?

Answer: Ultimately, I’m here for two primary purposes: ensure safe and effective mission execution and to build a bench of capable leaders for the Air Force Reserve. I do that by developing, supporting, challenging and inspiring our people, every day. We will certainly have challenges which lie ahead, but with those come opportunities. At the end of the day, this team is a family – they are the best at what they do and ready for whatever our nation asks of them. I’m very proud to lead them.