Get up, Dress up, Show up: Preparation, opportunity drive AFMC leader’s success

  • Published
  • By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
  • Air Force Materiel Command

Some say that “luck” happens when chance meets opportunity.

For Air Force Materiel Command Executive Director Patricia M. Young, “luck” was on her side when she took a chance and met with a civilian Air Force recruiter 36 years ago, resulting in a career with opportunities to learn, grow and flourish in ways beyond she could imagine.

“I sometimes feel like I am living in that Dr. Seuss book, ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go.’ I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel the world and see the mission so up close and personal. It’s been an amazing journey,” she said. 

Young joined the Air Force civilian service in 1985 as a Palace Acquire intern at Air Force Logistics Command, an AFMC predecessor, at Wright-Patterson AFB following a short stint teaching and advising at Wright State University. Over the next few years, she honed her skills in a number of logistics specialties, with supervisors and leaders encouraging ongoing learning and professional growth.

However, when a reduction in force swept across the Air Force in the early 1990s, Young found herself in line at personnel and was handed a pink slip—a huge surprise all around.

“I was like, ‘what is this?’ They told me they would try to place me in another position in 60 days, but that it wasn’t guaranteed. It was scary at that point,” she said.

As job openings were posted, Young applied, and her experience landed her in a position at U.S. Transportation Command at Scott AFB, where she spent the next 16 years progressing in diverse leadership ranks there, then at the Pentagon, before returning back to the same building she had her start at AFMC—building 262 at Wright-Patterson—where she leads from today.

“Coming back was like coming home to family,” she said.

As the most senior civilian leader at AFMC, Young is the key advisor to the commander on the civilian workforce, labor issues and development. Her role is huge, as civilians comprise more than 70% of the AFMC workforce, representing 40% of the total Air Force civilian force.

And, while a larger number of females are in the senior executive ranks today, when Young achieved the SES rank in 2002, she was one of only 24% of the total senior force--a challenge--but one she overcame through competence, confidence and a focus on building relationships and learning from those around her.

“When I came in as a Palace Acquire [intern], there were other GS-12, 13, 14, 15 females, so I didn’t notice a male dominance in the leadership ranks. But I did notice it more when I made the shift to senior executive.  At USTRANSCOM, I was the only female out of three SESs,” said Young. “They were ahead of times in terms of diversity and inclusion, but occasionally, you ran across people who were not as open-minded as some of my commanders.”

To overcome these challenges, Young often reflected on the advice her father, an Air Force veteran, gave her when she joined the civil service.

“My dad always said, ‘If you’re going to be in the workforce, you gotta know your stuff. You have to be able to speak for yourself, defend yourself and how to handle conflict.’ Until then, I never really thought much about that,” she said. 

As Young navigated the challenges of leading in a large organization, she, like many female Airmen and civilians, was also figuring out how to balance her family responsibilities. Finding balance and managing time became crucial, especially as demands increased on both fronts.

“My family has always been very supportive,” said Young. “As you move up (in rank), you have more demands on your time. So you’re going to have to figure out how to make it work for your family. Divide and conquer, and find out what works best for you and your family.”

As a mentor and guide to civilians and leaders at AFMC, Young often touts the importance of professional development for everyone, regardless of rank or grade, across the command. These opportunities equipped her with the tools to grow as a leader while better understanding her strengths, weaknesses and areas in which still to grow.

Regardless of one’s future quest, she says, there is always something to be learned through the development journey.

“Take the opportunities to understand yourself better…your own leadership style, strengths and weaknesses. Even if you’re not going to become a supervisor or manager, you can become a better team player,” she said. “We spend a lot of time at work. The more you know about yourself and understand how to be creative, collaborative and build coalitions, the happier you’re going to be.”

When speaking of success, Young talked in depth about the importance of making connections and getting to know the people in one’s workgroup as well as others in an organization. Being a mentor or being mentored, either formally or informally, is invaluable to the growth of an individual and the organization. This is especially important for today’s leaders who are helping prepare the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

“You need to know your people. We talk about succession planning and who’s on our bench, but how do you inform your boss about who is up-and-coming if you don’t know your people? That just boggles my mind,” she said. “I felt like I had such a good beginning where I talked to my supervisors on a daily basis. We need to make sure that we’re talking to each other and make connections every day.”

Asked about the future direction of the service, Young believes that better technology along with greater diversity and inclusion throughout the ranks will be evident in the coming years. However, to get to these changes, there needs to be a greater focus on educating the next generation on opportunities to serve outside of the uniform.

“People today still think you have to be military to consider a career in the Air Force. Civilians can serve, too, and many serve just as long if not longer than those in uniform. I try to recruit everyone to come to the Air Force because I’ve had so much fun and done things I never imagined,” said Young. “And if nothing else, I say to give it a try. Even if you leave, you’re still going to have an experience that so many don’t understand and get to do.”

This willingness to walk through open doors and ‘just try’ is what Young attributes to her career success today and makes her an inspiration to women leaders of the future.

“If you give people an opportunity to see what someone else has done, they can shoot further beyond those stars,” she said.

This leadership feature is part of the Air Force Materiel Command focus on female leaders during Women’s History Month 2021.