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Hurry sees Air Force as the ultimate ‘team sport’

  • Published

For Lt. Gen. Linda Hurry, Air Force Materiel Command Deputy Commander, a life of military service began with an interest in athletics and a chance encounter that led her to join what she considers the ultimate ‘team sport’—the U.S. Air Force.

Hurry was recruited out of high school by Stanford University to play basketball, but curious to learn of other options, she attended a college recruiting event, where she discovered the U.S. Air Force.

“I was patriotic but had never really considered the military, even though my dad was in the Army and my high school basketball coach was a former Marine drill sergeant,” she said. “I applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy on a whim because they had a great academics, they highly encouraged athletic participation, and I thought it would be pretty cool to fly.”

Although unsure if the military was for her, Hurry’s small-town neighbors were excited when they learned she had been accepted. No one in her high school had ever applied to the Academy, and her neighbors were relentless in their encouragement to take the step.

“Admittedly, in spite of all the peer pressure, the idea of joining a team where I would be a part of something much bigger than myself appealed to the athlete in me,” said Hurry.

At USAFA, she played not one, but three sports (soccer, softball and basketball), and met one of her first and most influential mentors on the softball field.

Chief Master Sgt. Gary Thomas was one of the pitching coaches who took her under his wing and laid a tremendous foundation for leadership. 

“What was so incredible about the Chief was that he didn’t have to mentor me, I wasn’t even a pitcher. But, he shared some of the most impactful leadership lessons that still stick with me today,” said Hurry.

Some of the most important nuggets I learned from him were to get to know your team, stay humble, be genuine, listen, be positive and resilient, and never go it alone.”

Hurry took that advice to heart. Her first assignment was at the 23rd Transportation Squadron where she was a 21-year-old responsible for a team of 127 Airmen.

“I was a bit intimidated at first, until I realized this was just another team who had a mission to do,” she said.

Her job was to ensure the environment was conducive to a healthy team that could deliver logistics capabilities to the warfighters. Working with them in the maintenance shop, and playing softball and volleyball with them bridged gaps in age and experience and helped Hurry to get to know them better.

”By talking, and more importantly listening, to Airmen and their families on the field or in the stands, I learned more about their concerns than I ever would at any staff meeting,” said Hurry.

She credits her and her team’s success to growing that team mindset. Hurry saw how important it was to get out from behind her desk and learn about people and the strengths and weaknesses of the group.

She thrives on building high-performing teams by giving them the resources they need and then getting out of the way so they can do their jobs.  She said leaders don’t have to do everything themselves. Their job is to set the direction and then take care of the team.

“The Air Force is a team sport,” Hurry said. “None of us can get anywhere by ourselves.”

As a single mother of three with a challenging career, she learned about life balance and found that she needed to rely on the team as much as they relied on her.

“My three musketeers are the center of my universe. I had to learn to prioritize and ensure that when I was able to be there for their events, I was actually present,” she said. “When I was at their games, they would have my full attention and my head was not buried in my phone checking emails.”

Hurry strives to ensure her work team follows her lead because leader actions have influence.

“If you are in the office at 6:30 [a.m.], your teammates will try to beat you in, and if you stay until 10 [at night], they will feel like they need to, also,” she said. “Set the right tone. If you are in a leadership position and say family is important, you have to ‘walk the walk.’”

Several years ago, Hurry suffered the devastating effects of a random virus, which forced her to relearn daily functions and even walk. She experienced firsthand the humility and benefits of a supportive work family and team mentality as those around her rallied and stepped up to the plate in support.

“At first, I didn’t know what I was going to do, I was frustrated by the situation, but I also knew curveballs happen to everyone.” she said. “I finally realized I needed to focus on what I could do and not what I couldn’t. I needed to let myself lean on the team if I was going to overcome the situation.”

“It worked,” she exclaimed. “The only reason I am allowed to still serve in our Air Force is because of all the help that amazing team gave me in overcoming that illness. I will be forever grateful!”

The relationships you make along the way are priceless. We are building an Air Force family, and you learn that you don’t do anything by yourself.”

She continued, ”Our Air Force missions are so broad that you can’t possibly be an expert in everything. We have to rely on our teammates to get things done. And bouncing ideas off others is unbelievably beneficial—two heads are definitely better than one!” 

Another lesson Hurry learned in her 32-year career is that respect is earned for who you are and how you treat people. 

She said she truly believes, “respect isn’t really rank or position dependent, meaning don’t change who you are because you get a promotion, or you’re asked to hang your hat in a different place!  You have to be genuine!”

Hurry plans to stay in the Air Force as long as she can help make a difference and make it better than the day before. She is excited about the innovations she sees coming and believes that if we give Airmen the greatest challenges, they will come up with solutions. She believes they can help the Air Force solve any challenge.

“Nothing is impossible,” she said. “We need our Airmen to think differently and challenge the status quo.  Our leaders need to encourage them, empower them, and then get out of their way!” 

Hurry’s desk features a quote from Walt Disney that sums up her attitude: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”