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Saroni bids farewell after 30 years

Then Col. Vincent Saroni shakes hands with a host nation contractor in Iraq to signify a deal. Saroni was deployed to the country in 2008 as the deputy commanding officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division. (Courtesy photo)

From left, Brig. Gen. Vincent Saroni receives a token of thanks from then Brig. Gen. Timothy Green during his farewell lunch at the Pentagon recently. (U.S. Air Force photo/Erin Maloney/Released)
By CE Online

     For more than 30 years, Brig. Gen. Vincent Saroni has faithfully served Air Force civil engineers in many capacities. His latest and final position is the mobilization assistant to the director of civil engineers. Though his time spent at the Pentagon is intermittent, his leadership and mentorship is of great benefit to all and his presence will be missed. On July 25, Maj. Gen. Timothy Green will officiate at Saroni's retirement ceremony from the Air Force Reserve. 

     We want to thank Saroni for his many years of service.  Before his departure, we asked him a few questions to glean some of the lessons he's learned and wisdom he's gained during his long career.

     CE Magazine: Why do you think the four Air Force Reserve Command Force Development Pillars, (work assignments in command, Joint Duty Assignment List positions, National Capital Region and higher headquarters are important for leadership development? From which of these experiences do you feel you learned the most?

     Saroni: For me, each of these pillars has provided tremendous opportunity for my professional development in the Air Force Reserve. My major command experience at Air Mobility Command was foundational and prepared me for my deployment to Iraq and for my time at the Pentagon. Not only did I develop as a leader, but I also grew in my ability to do good staff work; the work that moves projects and special interest items through coordination to eventual construction or implementation. Some of the projects that I was fortunate to co-lead were the AMC force protection gate program, which eventually became an Air Force standard, and the DOD Unified Facilities Criteria. 
     This experience prepared me for my deployment to Iraq where I was selected as the first Airman to serve as the deputy commanding officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, responsible for nation-building and stabilizing the country. My follow-on tour at the Pentagon allowed me to co-lead the airman resiliency program and the Deployment Transition Center at Ramstein AB, Germany. This program benefited our explosive ordnance disposal Airmen as well as EOD in the Navy, Marines and other career fields. Finally, the opportunity to serve as the transition team leader and deputy director to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center brought together all of the staff skills and leadership principles acquired throughout my career at the command, joint and NCR levels.

     CE Magazine: You've said that one of the most challenging parts of being an MA is figuring out how to bring value to your organization when you have limited, interrupted time there. How did you approach this?

     Saroni: One way that I tried to bring value to my units was through managing long-term projects. I always interviewed full-time staff officers, civilian and military, to identify projects that they never quite had time to get to -- the ones on the back burner. Projects that were fast-paced and needed daily updates and attention, I discovered, were not good candidates. So instead, I would ask, "What is something you haven't been able to get to?" and look for projects that could be completed in about nine months with intermittent attentions. Once a project was identified, I would set milestones and deadlines during the nine months and get approval for my time of duty to coincide with meeting those milestones. These nine to 12 month projects helped me establish "Leadership in Depth."  
     On some assignments, I would backfill for the active duty as a supervisor and work to resolve or move forward as many projects and issues as I could. This gave me a wide array of experience I referred to as "Leadership in Breadth."  At the end of each tour, I would send in a short status report to my boss (OPR bullet style) for continuity in case of personnel changes. I found that leadership in depth and leadership in breadth built "relationships, loyalty and trust" which will always get you a long way toward accomplishing your active-duty commander's goals.

     CE Magazine: What advice do you have for getting quickly "spun up" while filling in for someone?

     Saroni:  Great question. One thing that I recommend to IMAs and Traditional Reservists is to avoid "just showing up" and expecting the active-duty staff to have meaningful work ready. Instead, line up work ahead of time. The key to hitting the ground running is to be running before you get there. This reduces stress on active-duty counterparts and allows you to accomplish a worthwhile task. 
     I also recommend lining up the next several projects for your tour during your duty time. By working issues important to the unit or staff organization you belong to, you become familiar with where the unmet requirements are. Take your ideas and proposals to your supervisor for vector and approval.

     CE Magazine: Has your civilian career given you any skills/experiences that have complemented your military career?

     Saroni: My almost 10 years as a municipal civil engineer prepared me for the type of nation-building projects that GRD accomplished in Iraq. As a municipal engineer, I had to layout parking lots and lanes of traffic for public streets and private development that directly influenced my work for the gate program. Additionally, my volunteer time working with churches and in areas of counseling gave me policy and guidance experience that were helpful in developing the airman resiliency program.

     CE Magazine: What are some of the challenges involved with maintaining military and civilian careers concurrently?

     Saroni:  I have heard many Reservists speak in terms of maintaining a work/life balance. It has been helpful for me to think of it in terms of work/life "tradeoff."  I found that I could not keep the three parts of my life in "balance": marriage and family life, civilian employment and Air Force Reserve service to country. I had to make trade-offs and choose between the three at certain times. Maintaining strong relationships with my wife and family was of the utmost importance, yet still they made great sacrifices during my long deployments away from home.
     My Air Force Reserve career allowed me to continue serving our country, continue the lasting friendships I made while on active duty, and add to those relationships with friends I met while in the Reserves. While I had various and rewarding civilian employments, I generally chose not to pursue promotion or take on increased responsibility with them. I let my employers know upfront that my family and the Air Force Reserve would take priority. I would not recommend that for everyone, but that is the tradeoff I made.

     CE Magazine: Do you have any final thoughts to share?

     Saroni: I greatly appreciate the friends and mentors that have taken time to invest in me, and I've made efforts to invest in those who come after me. I have worked with junior officers, noncommissioned officers and civilians in our CE community, and I am convinced the future is bright. They are already tackling challenges within CE and Air Force wide with creativity and forward-thinking. I thank the Air Force and the CE family for the opportunities I've been given.