ST. JOSEPH, Mo. --
“To be recognized by my peers as an outstanding performer means so much to me,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Lembke, this year’s winner of the 139th Airlift Wing’s Outstanding Field Grade Officer of the Year.
Lembke’s career started in 1992 when he joined the Army as an active duty medic. He left active duty to join the Army National Guard while attending college before hearing about the opportunities the 139th held for those in the medical field.
“I was in nursing school, and there felt like there were more opportunities for career advancement through the Air National Guard,” Lembke said. “The Army had more of a field environment feel when what I wanted was the more clinical feel that was offered on the air side of the house.”
While his background had always been in the medical field, a change in the way units would be inspected led to him being assigned to lead the efforts for the medical group.
“Col. Echterling (ret.) asked me to stand up the office, and I found that I enjoyed the work and environment of the inspector general office,” Lembke said. “It has been so incredibly rewarding to see how our office helps the wing remain in compliance and, in turn, continuously improve our processes. The outstanding work and people of the 139th is what keeps me motivated to continue to serve.”
While his service history is certainly notable, it is the efforts of him and his office that led to his nomination and selection for this year’s FGO of the Year award. Because the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change in the way people could do their work, Lembke chose to use the technology that was provided to its fullest and adapt the way the IG office engaged with the rest of the Wing.
“Before the pandemic, we would hold quarterly meetings in which commanders and those in charge of their office’s inspection items would all show up,” Lembke said. “Instead of trying to replicate these meetings in Teams with so many people, we chose to hold individualized meetings with the offices, which meant we could deliver the most relevant content to them.”
Lembke went on to describe how this created additional work for him and his office, but it was well worth it. Outstanding inspection items drastically dropped because of their efforts. They credit that to the way their new meeting format allowed them to explain the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of their work.
Lembke is also involved in his community as a head coach for a second-grade football team. The pandemic has forced many, including himself, to work from home which provided him two important motivators: the time to commit to such work and the desire to provide an environment for kids who have been in lockdown for so long to get outside for exercise and to learn about team cohesion.
“The IG office has such high visibility because of the importance of operating in compliance,” Lembke said. “If we go stagnant, there could be critical failures for the wing. We need collaboration to remain vibrant and robust, and we hope this new model of bringing our work to the rest of the base is what helps us accomplish that, then we hope to continue this method of delivery once we’ve fully returned to on-base operations.”