We have all heard the old adage, “when life serves you lemons, make lemonade.” While this is easier said than done, it is sometimes the best approach.
We face very difficult times, and I am not here to debate how we got here or even the best approach to getting out of the situation. We can leave that for another day. I am here to offer you a way to take action in the midst of the situation.
Times are dire for Airmen and debatably rival some of the most difficult times in our recent history. But many great Americans became great because of the size of the challenges they overcame – from our Founding Fathers to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. – and the same is true of great Airmen like Billy Mitchell.
While most of my career has seen prosperous years, there was a time when we took cuts and struggled to obtain equipment, ranges and ammo to train.
As a Security Forces member, I recall the days right after Desert Storm when my squadron returned to home station and began to regenerate. I was a new squad leader and excited about all the things I wanted to do with my squad. We were going to be the best trained and most lethal combat squad ever seen.
Much to my surprise every time I turned around I was being denied the equipment, tools and time I needed to train.
I had a choice to make: I could allow my circumstance to cripple my excitement and enthusiasm as a new squad leader or I could get creative and make the most out of my situation. With much mentorship and encouragement from some great leaders, I chose to make lemonade.
I took my squad out and we practiced tactics with little to no equipment. We would go to the range and dry fire weapons, a concept that many use today to improve marksmanship skills even when they do have ammo. Eventually we obtained ammo and more equipment, and when it was time to go to the range my squad shot very well and their tactics were amazing. I am glad I chose to make lemonade versus sitting around defeated and crippled by the challenges we faced.
Leaders at every level who choose to make lemonade need to realize that even the most innovative Airmen still need lemons, sugar and water to make that happen. That’s where the second part of my message, the boxing lesson, comes in. When we are asking our Airmen to make the most of a bad situation our leaders must continue to fight the tough fight for resources to ensure we are ready to fight our Nation’s wars.
I was reassured by a spouse at a town hall meeting that readiness is the best thing we can do for our Airmen and their families. During the meeting we explained that we would have to depart early for our deployment. Many wanted us to cancel a training temporary duty so that our Airmen could spend more time at home. We did not cancel the training mission, and they were pretty upset. As one of the spouses stood to make her understandable frustration known, the other spouse responded before we could. “If spending 10 days away from home will ensure my husband makes it home alive,” she said, “then I am more than willing to sacrifice the time.”
While we can never guarantee someone will make it home alive from combat, we can certainly ensure they have the best chance. Training and equipping our people to ensure they are ready to fight is the most important part of taking care of Airmen, and that has to be our focus in the months ahead.
As leaders in today’s challenging times, we must put aside our concern for popularity and promotion and fight for what is right. I call it Billy Mitchell leadership. Billy Mitchell did not appear to be concerned about his own future, but he was certainly concerned about the future of airpower. And it is because of his sacrifice that we are the most powerful Air Force in the world today.
Billy Mitchell leadership is the reason we provide close air support in Afghanistan in less than nine minutes routinely. It is the reason many more service members make it home alive. We must fight for what we feel is the right thing to do to ensure our personnel are prepared to fly, fight, win and return with honor.
Yes, we face challenging times, but our Nation has faced tough times before. We must make lemonade and fight the good fight for the future of our Airmen, families and Nation. I’ll be squeezing lemons and throwing punches, and I hope you will join me.