Changes and challenges have always been a part of military service. It has confronted Airmen from the beginning evolution of flight to today’s operational environment, ranging from near-peer adversaries to unconventional nonstate groups. History can recount Billy Mitchell’s multiple efforts through the 1920s advocating for an increased role of airpower and a separate service, challenging the status quo to change. The attacks of Pearl Harbor or Sept., 11, 2001, are obvious examples, challenging our notion of security and readiness. Look at the multiple ways airpower has provided kinetic and nonkinetic effects across the spectrum of operations in the last 15 or so years, regardless of environment or threat. Pause for a moment and think about your functional area and how much things have changed just in your career.
As Airmen, when you truly think about your daily duties, you are operating in a context of constant change and challenge. The key is you must confront it and then inform, motivate and lead others through it.
I remember multiple times as a convoy commander having to roll out on a mission even when an improvised explosive device had gone off on a previous route or that day in another part of the battle-space with someone injured or killed. It was obviously very difficult to motivate Airmen and Soldiers in those circumstances as so many emotions run through your mind such as teammates’ safety, your safety, sadness, empathy, frustration and anger.
However, as a leader you either rise to the occasion or you wilt and your people will follow your lead, whether it is to confront the challenge or not. You have to compartmentalize the issue, focus on your task, realizing a lot of others are going to follow you, and lead them through the situation. We clearly face challenging times from every angle today, fiscal woes, manning reductions, changes in global posture and constantly revised adversarial tactics and efforts. We must look at them as opportunities to rise and lead, because our fellow Airmen and every U.S. citizen are relying on that.
Change, challenge and crisis will always be there, and just like anything else in life, it is an opportunity. Ten percent of it is what the problem is and 90 percent is what you do with it. We will face some difficult discussions with some of our Airmen in the next few months with the impending force management reductions. We may even see some talented Airmen separated despite multiple years of dedicated service.
Even with difficulty, a leader must rise to the occasion and face the challenge together with his or her people. The only constant is that we will see more change and crisis.