By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Carrel K. Regis
Defense Information School
Air Force Maj. Tony Wickman, the deputy commandant of the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, speaks with a visitor Aug. 15, 2016, at the school. Wickman became the deputy commandant in July.
Air Force Maj. Tony Wickman, the new deputy commandant of the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, was walking down a hall at the school in early August when he noticed a sign, “field training exercise,” outside a classroom door.
Curious about what was going on, he walked in and greeted a group of Basic Public Affairs Specialist Course students.
The students welcomed him in and explained what they were doing: taking everything they had learned in their three-month course and applying it in a joint training environment. They said that their graded exercise was going well and they were having fun working together.
Wickman said he was happy to hear about their positive experiences, and he walked out of the room with a smile.
He never actually identified himself – but he had introduced his leadership style.
“My priorities are to keep the doors open, keep the lights on, and make sure it’s the best world-class environment for the students here,” Wickman said later. “And of course, as the commandant has his vision of where we need to go as a schoolhouse, I’m going to take that vision and make it an executable task for the staff.”
Wickman’s path to DINFOS went from Seoul, South Korea, where his father was serving in the U.S. Army when Wickman was born, to the University of Florida and the Air Force security forces.
He said he was on course toward a degree in advertising until he saw how public relations gives someone the opportunity to help an entity communicate its organizational goals.
After graduating in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, Wickman was employed as a marketing researcher for a pharmaceutical company. Unsure of his future and unable to afford the cost of another degree, he enlisted in the Air Force in 1997.
His career with the security forces influenced his development as a leader.
“In many cases, as a policeman, you deal solely with, ‘Did you do right or did you do wrong?’” Wickman said. “Guilty or not guilty?”
But it’s not just about what’s right or wrong, he said. Good leaders consider mitigating circumstances.
As a senior airman, Wickman earned a master’s degree in human relations. After four years with the security forces, he went to Air Force Officer Training School and was commissioned as a public affairs officer in 2001.
He went straight to his first assignment, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, before attending the Public Affairs Officer Qualification Course at DINFOS.
In his first week at his new command, an F-16 crashed, killing the pilot and a civilian photographer who was aboard.
Wickman learned and employed crisis communication and community relations on the go.
Later, he was assigned as a public affairs officer on Air Force bases in Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas and Germany, and took a number of courses through DINFOS and Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
His education helped him throughout his Air Force career, Wickman said, setting the foundation for him to be a better public affairs practitioner.
As the previous deputy commandant, Air Force Lt. Col. John S. Hutcheson, was preparing to move on, the Air Force began looking for his replacement.
Wickman said he was surprised to find out he was selected.
“Are you sure you got the right guy?” he asked. He had always thought of himself as a “go do it” person, he said, not someone who would be a good fit in an academic environment.
“That was never something I really thought was me,” Wickman said. “But apparently my career field and the Defense Media Activity leadership feel it is, and I’m happy to be here.”
Army Col. Martin Downie, the DINFOS commandant, assured Wickman that he was the man to take Downie’s visions and plans to the next step.
The people Wickman works with have already taken notice of his leadership skills.
“He’s very direct in his communication,” said Mary O’Shea, the DINFOS provost. “He has a clear goal in mind.”
On the other hand, while Wickman is empathetic about the difficulties of solving problems, he expects people to come up with solutions.
“He holds people accountable, and that’s a piece of leadership that’s probably the hardest but the most necessary, and it isn’t always pretty,” O’Shea said. “He helps you prioritize and focus, and helps you keep other minutiae at bay.”
O’Shea described Wickman as “a force of energy” and said his impact already is being felt.
He has a sense of humor and the ability to make a heavy topic easier to talk about, she said. He has a gift for analogy. He can take unusual situations and compare them to normal events to make a problem easier to understand.
“I think he’s going to make sure that we have the people, the resources, the time that we need to focus ourselves on the things that are important to the organization,” she said. “We have a lot of big projects that we’re moving, and we definitely need someone with his skills in his role right now.”
Wickman, who is scheduled to be promoted Aug. 31 to lieutenant colonel, said he is looking forward to the next few years.
“I’m excited to be a part of DINFOS,” he said. “I’m excited about where we’re at currently as a school, but the future is promising and even more exciting.”