Recently I came across an interesting quote from Admiral Togo Heihachiro, Commander of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Tsushima in 1905: “If your sword is too short, take one step forward.”
Given the environment of reduced budgets, fiscal challenges and potential manpower shortages facing the Air Force, this quote struck me as relevant to how Airmen should approach these challenges. We must attack them with leadership, communication and commitment to mission.
Some may interpret this quote as merely “doing more with less” or “doing the same with less.” Senior leadership has clearly said they do not expect us to “do more with less” so how is this quote relevant today?
I would contend stepping forward with a sword that is too short is simply recognizing the importance of the mission and remaining committed to it despite the challenges. It is finding innovative ways to maximize resources, removing waste from processes and most importantly making sure we are all carrying our respective weight as we execute our daily tasks.
We must instill leadership in every Airman as we attack these challenges. That includes clearly communicating expectations for junior enlisted Airmen with respect to exceeding standards in duty performance, living the Air Force core values, and understanding the Air Force culture does not stop at the front gate. Airmen are held to a higher standard on and off duty and we must understand that living to a higher standard is not a burden that hinders us, but rather a welcomed responsibility unique to the profession of arms.
Additionally, we must empower our NCOs, specifically first line supervisors, to consistently hold their assigned Airmen accountable to the standards set by the Enlisted Force Structure and the Air Force core values. Finally, senior NCOs and officers must lead by example, enforce standards and serve the Airmen under their command. The goal is that all Airmen will be empowered to lead their peers and subordinates through any challenge thus ensuring our ability to provide air power now and in the future.
Communication is critical in this process. We must routinely communicate the Air Force core values and the Air Force culture to our peers and subordinates to ensure we do not deviate from standards.
As we experience resource shortfalls, we must communicate those shortfalls to senior leaders to ensure they have a clear understanding of the impacts they have on the mission. However, before we say “we can’t,” we must learn to pursue innovative options and exhaust every resource to execute our daily duties, because despite resource challenges, failure is not an option in ensuring national security.
The old ways of doing business may no longer be applicable and we must be willing to develop new innovative tactics, techniques and procedures. We must start to truly think outside the box and empower all Airmen to be creative and communicate their ideas to improve processes. As the force gets smaller we must understand that every Airman’s contribution has a greater impact on the mission. Conversely, any deviation from standards will have an even greater negative impact on the mission. Therefore, it is imperative that we remain committed to the excellence and give 100 percent each and every day.
The current resource challenges are daunting but they are not impossible to overcome. Attacking these challenges will not be easy; they would not be called challenges if they were. Throughout the history of our service there are many examples of great Airmen overcoming challenges in combat and in peacetime. We must leverage our past successes as we face these challenges. If our swords have been reduced in size during the fight, we must be willing to step forward and attack these challenges with leadership, communication and a commitment to mission.