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Military Lessons from Leaders


The following story is by Christopher Gresens


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The story of how I became an Employee with one the greatest companies in the United States is an exciting one that began at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Actually, you could say my entire journey began with my decision to join the military.


I felt the call to serve my country in high school, so it was no surprise to most when I was standing in a Military Entrance Processing Station raising my right hand and swearing to defend the constitution and this great country against all enemies foreign and domestic. I joined the United States Air Force when I was eighteen, and I entered training to become an aircraft mechanic. I specialized in ejection seat maintenance.


I met some of the greatest leaders who took it upon themselves to mentor and train me.  The most impactful leader I met in my military career was my direct supervisor at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea—Matthew Sansositi. Matt taught me to always lead from the front. He taught me that it is the leader’s job to be an advocate for their people, and putting your team first is a critical component. Leadership isn’t about receiving accolades or personal glory. Leadership is about those you lead and how you prepare them to succeed. Through Matt’s efforts, as well as my other Leaders in the Air Force, a strong sense of integrity, commitment to excellence, and service before self was deeply engrained in my character. These core values have been a guiding compass in my life. 


After completing my enlistment, I decided to leave the military and enroll in college to pursue a degree. In the summer of 2015, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. While at TCU, I further honed my leadership skills through the Criminal Justice Honor Society, where I organized and lead fundraisers and volunteer events. Additionally, I embraced the school spirit and completely bought into the "Horned Frog" way of life. I loved the passion of the Horned Frog family, and eagerly joined the Alumnus Corp.


I was so deeply impacted by my time spent at TCU and the people I met that a hole was left in my life after graduating. Little did I know the hole would be filled by the amazing Company Culture at Southwest Airlines, and the incredible Cohearts I work with every day. MI applied for Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program, was accepted, and am working at Denver International Airport. My time at TCU ultimately set me up to understand the concept of joining the Southwest Family and adhering to the Southwest way of life—what we call Living and Working the Southwest Way.


Looking back on my late teens and early twenties, I see a clearly orchestrated path that put me at the doorstep of Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program. I am thankful every day that I was welcomed into a Company that is more than a job or even a career—I was welcomed into a Family.  After working for Southwest for six months, two notions come to mind:


  1. I could not imagine working for any other Company, and
  2. I have another thirty-nine and half years to enjoy until I retire!


Southwest’s Emerging Leader Development Program has been recognized for outstanding achievements in leadership development and programs in’s 2016 Leadership Excellence Awards:

  • #3 in the Best First Time Manager Program category.
  • #5 for Innovation in Deployment of Leadership Programs.
  • Dawn Siemiet, Leadership Development Program Leader, was named #1 in the Top Future Leader Award – 35 and Under category.
  • Julie Weber, VP People, was among the top 10 Top Corporate Leaders Over 35.

In addition, Southwest is one of Chief Executive Magazine’s 2016 Best Companies for Leaders.
 The program also took top honors at the Association for Talent Development’s Dallas AXIS Awards, earning Best in Show, as well as first place in the Leadership Development, Succession Planning, and Talent Mobility categories.