SMC Officer wins first-ever USSF Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award

  • Published
  • By Chip Pons
  • Space and Missile Systems Center Public Affairs

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Capt. Gilbert Rayhill, executive officer to the Space and Missile Systems Center Development Corps Program Executive Officer, is the first-ever recipient of the U.S. Space Force’s Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award in the junior officer category.

Created in 1981, the Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award was created to recognize individuals who have demonstrated the highest qualities of leadership in their personal and professional lives and is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards for the Air and Space Force’s officer corps.

When asked what this accomplishment meant to him, Rayhill explained how leaders and role models throughout the various chapters of his career and life have helped mentor him into the acquisition officer he is today.

What do you value most in a leader? Has there been a specific moment in your career that you remember thinking “Wow…that’s an amazing leader.”

It is hard to pinpoint a specific moment because I have been blessed with numerous examples of great leadership - whether it was on the fields of friendly strife, in an academic environment, or during my time in the military.

However, if I had to pick one defining moment it would be Gen. Mark Welsh, the former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s address to the cadet wing at Arnold Hall during my senior year at the Air Force Academy.

In his speech, he was able to relate to every single person in the crowd as he introduced a dozen Airmen from varying career fields and told their stories. It was his remarkable storytelling ability that initially drew everyone’s attention, but it was his message that captivated all in attendance. He stated “Leadership is a gift. It’s given by those who follow, but you have to be worthy of it.” He challenged us to be ready to lead and learn everyone’s story because if you “don’t know their story, you can’t lead Airmen.”

I value a leader’s ability to know the story of his or her Airmen and strive to embody that in my own leadership style. 

As a leader, how to you hope to encourage and inspire the Airmen you lead?

I have been fortunate to have great role models throughout my life - from my parents and coaches, to my teachers, mentors, supervisors, and other adult figures who have helped me get to where I am today. These significant influences have made me a big believer and advocate of the servant leadership philosophy. I hope to encourage and inspire the Airmen I lead by being a good role model and growing them through empowerment and putting their needs first.

One of my biggest takeaways from a recent deployment was learning the first Special Operation Forces Truth: “Humans are more important than hardware.” As an acquisition officer, I hope to never lose sight of that truth because it is the people who make the critical difference in what we do, not the equipment. Sometimes, that is easy to forget when we are managing our acquisition programs, defending budgets, answering congressional requests for information, meeting schedule deadlines and the various other tasks we encounter on a daily basis.

What does winning the 2020 Lance P. Sijan USAF Leadership Award mean to you?

I am honored to be the U.S. Space Force’s first Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award winner. Sijan is the only Air Force Academy graduate to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I lived in Sijan Hall my entire time at the Academy and know his story very well; his courage and drive throughout his evasion, imprisonment, and escape truly are inspirational.

I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to his sister, Janine Sijan-Rozina, at length during my ring dance ceremony and she provided motivational remarks and served as a reminder that the Air Force is a family who takes care of one another.

His story has inspired countless Airmen and I aspire to emulate his courage and leadership.