“And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars. Everything else in your professional career is but a corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, honor, country.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur
Sylvanus Thayer Award Acceptance Address
Delivered May 12, 1962, West Point, N.Y.
A couple days ago we had an officer development session where we talked about the book “The Unforgiving Minute” by Craig Mullaney. We went on to discuss what is our identity as an Air Force?
One of the takeaways I got from the book was how the certainty of being placed in mortal combat affected the way Mullaney thought and trained to prepare himself. He knew he would be in circumstances requiring him to lead people into situations where some were likely to die, and he knew that every last thing he could do to make himself a better leader could help bring more of his men home safely.
That got me thinking. How would I change the way I live and work if I had the same certainty? What if I knew that in the future the Air Force would be in a shooting war where we didn’t have overwhelming superiority, where the odds were actually against the United States, where I knew my ability to lead well and do my job would mean the difference between scores of people living and dying? Not a pleasant scenario to ponder, but it does help me critically evaluate my priorities.
One of the unique aspects of the Air Force is the relative size of its combat arms compared to its logistics requirements. Our operators make up a smaller overall percentage of the Air Force than in any other service. The above exert from General MacAuthur conveys a singleness of purpose that helps instill the strength and conviction that is fundamental in military service. Often this appears to be more prevalent the closer one gets to the fight.
One of our institutional challenges is to see that this attitude, this warrior ethos permeates our culture at every level. But this can be tough. Our mission is to Fly, Fight and Win, but most Airmen do not pilot aircraft.
How does an Airman reconcile the disparity between the war fighting ethos, heroes and stories he grew up hearing about and a job that may seem very far removed from the fight? Our mission is to Fly, Fight and Win, and while most Airmen do not fly, I argue that we do all fight and that we must all have the will to win.
My old aircraft maintenance unit chief Darren Preiss used to have a couple choice words for anyone who had committed a technical data violation (a serious breach of trust in our profession).
“In maintenance we don’t fight with our fists or with guns and bullets,” he said. “We fight with our integrity and our wits, we fight with our ability to plan and hold each other accountable. We fight by doing it the right way every time even when the heat is on and nobody is watching.”
He hits the nail on the head. We fight through our specific contributions to the mission. Connecting our Airmen’s job to the mission is a vital communication that we as leaders must fulfill. Without that connection it is well near impossible to foster the ethos that we need our Airmen to have — that dedication to sweep aside all impediments to mission accomplishment and get the job done and done right.