Turmoil demands leadership

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Over the last few months, we have seen great leaders depart the 509th Bomb Wing to retire, separate, or PCS. In fact, I was busy toiling over the retirement speech I would make at a great senior NCO's retirement recently, and it got me thinking ... what makes a great leader? 

Certainly, there are numerous books on it, and they are filled with the secrets, formulas, steps, or goals to becoming great leaders followed with snippets of wisdom and anecdotal evidence. 

But look around you among the Niner community, and you will see more. As you move from meeting to meeting, travel among squadrons, walk the neighborhoods, attend community luncheons, or do the daily mission, you will see great leadership attributes everywhere - from Airmen, NCOs, SNCOs, officers, parents, teachers, to business owners. 

The times in which we live, demand leaders and followers at all levels. We are currently immersed in the long war on terrorism and simultaneously face decreasing budgets, personnel shortages, and increased operational demands. 

Further, as President John F. Kennedy stated to the United States Naval Academy graduating class in 1961, "when there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat ... many serve, all applaud and the tide of patriotism runs high. But when there is a long, slow struggle with no immediate, visible foe, your choice [to serve your country] will seem hard indeed." 

Doesn't that sound familiar to today's times with the emergence of political platforms and mass media barrages? Like I stated last July, you are the nation's superheroes.
As Sir Winston Churchill stated after the Battle of Britain and also appropriate to the current climate, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Believe it! 

As American Airmen, we will not falter and we will not fail. 

The senior NCO who retired this month served on three continents, saw his career field merge and reorganize twice, experienced the rapid development of the Internet and e-mail, had to transition among three types of utility and blue uniforms, experienced five different combat campaigns and led the way through ebb and flows in personnel and budgets across three decades. 

Through each change, the Air Force emerged stronger and better, but it took leaders and followers at all levels to stay motivated, inspire others, be innovative, raise their technical competency, remain honest with their opinions and ideas in the command chain and stay true to the mission and the people. 

Change is constant at all levels and will continue to be the norm so let's embrace it. How we lead and manage change within our organizations is the key to long-term success. 

OK, I know what you're saying ... "Great words, smart man, but how do we do that?" 

First, stay true to the five Niner pillars of mission, people, safety, security and surety within the directives of our functions. If they conflict, raise the silly flag, communicate the problem upward, and think outside the box for proper solution sets. 

Second, find ways to motivate yourself and others while creating stability for the troops where you can. 

Between air expeditionary force, training, operational and duty schedules, we can sometimes facilitate stability in how we choose to execute the mission. 

I know our bosses have intentionally reduced the operations tempo this summer to give us a breather (thanks). 

Fitness and eating right certainly help. Educational opportunities abound and are 100 percent paid for if you make the choice to enroll. 

Mental health is also important and that can come from giving people adequate time to rest, exercise, be with families/friends, or seek the guidance of our crack support network and mental health professionals. And have fun! 

I know that when my folks (including the augmentees) are working in 12-hour shifts sweating in 90-degree temperatures lugging over 100 lbs of gear on the flightline during generations - fun is the last thing on their mind. 

The same holds true for other specialties. But, you know what? Fun comes from more than the job. 

The job is fun at times because of what we do, but it can be fun most, if not all of the time from the interaction with wingmen, teammates and friends as well as from the sense of accomplishment from achieving or surpassing our combat capabilities. 

Third, you cannot talk too much with your superiors, peers and subordinates to clarify mission intent, the way ahead, or problem solve. 

I sat in the Mission's End with two of the smartest peers I know a few weeks ago.
I learned from them, I vented with them and I left with a better understanding of their missions and the constraints we faced together. It made us a better team. 

Fourth, think from a systems approach. Nothing on this base or in a deployed situation occurs without all teams synergizing their effort. 

We can't fly, fight and win our nation's wars without every element of the ops, maintenance, support and medical entities working together. 

Certainly, our military is not victorious without the contributions of the joint services. The base cannot succeed with the interaction and support of our local communities. 

Ultimately, systems theory says you cannot make changes to the way you do business in one area without impacting the others. 

That is the fundamental essence of systems. Constant communication flow and teamwork are essential - we can find solutions in which all functions excel. 

Finally, remember this ...we will not falter and we will not fail. 

America and its symbol of freedom will persevere and forever remain a beacon of hope to the impoverished, disenfranchised and enslaved peoples of the world. 

We are blessed to live and serve in the greatest country and military in the world.
Whether you believe it was God's will, luck, good decision-making, alien intervention or a freak of nature that made you American, you are. 

Now, whoever you are, be a leader. 

Stay true to the Niner pillars, motivate yourself and try to inspire others by your efforts, communicate honestly up and down the chain, remember that you are part of a larger system and your role is important and stay focused - we will get through all the chaos and emerge stronger. 

We are all American superheroes. Ask any retiree if over the course of their careers, they experienced change and if they got through it and we all became better and stronger than before. 

You won't be surprised by the answer.