Time to pass the baton

  • Published
  • By Col. Billy Langford
  • 22nd Operations Group commander
My Air Force adventure began on July 3, 1986. That morning I woke up a civilian member of this great nation, but after being commissioned by my father, I finished the day as a second lieutenant in the greatest Air Force this world has ever known.

Although there have been ups and downs over the last 25 years, I have always felt that this service was my service, and I'd do whatever was required to fulfill my role. As I reach the end of my service, I wonder how I can know if you who remain are up to the challenge of leading my Air Force through one of the most turbulent times our nation has ever seen.

The real measure of your ability to lead my Air Force into the future is grounded in your belief of our first core value --integrity.

Our service defines integrity as a willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking. It is the moral compass, the inner voice, the voice of self-control and the basis for the trust imperative in today's high operations tempo military.

Former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Ronald Fogleman said, "Leadership is about motivating people to perform and accomplish the unit's mission. Working toward this common goal builds unit cohesion, trust, and a sense of self-esteem, butut a failure of integrity poisons the outfit, destroys trust between people and breaks down unit cohesion."

While many other leadership qualities are complex, integrity is simple. You either have it, or you don't. For me, this is the very foundation of our service's future. I have found that leaders with integrity are sincere, consistent and have substance.

Sincere leaders make their actions match their words. For the last two and a half years, I've seen sincere leaders time and time again do just this.

Last year, as we prepared to endure an onslaught of inspectors from the command, I saw sincere leaders called to action. I saw young Airmen step up as leaders. In my Aircrew Flight Equipment, Host Aviation Resource Management/Squadron Aviation Resource Management, and Intelligence shops young leaders, with sincere desires to succeed, endured long hours during the week and through the weekends, to ensure all aspects of their operations were in perfect synchronization. They could have taken easier routes, but they knew they were the best, so they ensured their actions matched their words.

A single example of integrity may make an impression, but a leader's behavior must be consistent if he or she is to successfully shape an organization. To do this, leaders must be consistent in their enforcement of disciplinary standards.

This wing met the challenge of consistency head-on over the last year as we transitioned to a new set of fitness standards. Early on in the process, there were opportunities at all levels to use rank or friendship as an excuse for a breach in discipline.

Despite this, I saw young officers and first line supervisors making tough calls to enforce the new standards. Sometimes those tough calls came at the cost of losing an Airman, but we embraced consistency and now our fitness currency rate is pushing 100percent, and our fitness test pass rate is about 90percent.

Along with being consistent, a leader must have more than the image of integrity; he or she must also have substance. In Donald Phillips book, "Lincoln on Leadership," he states that President Abraham Lincoln once told a story about a farmer who had a tall, majestic looking tree growing next to his house. One morning, he saw a squirrel run up the side of the tree and disappear into a hole. Curious, the farmer looked into the hole and discovered that the tree he had always admired for its apparent grandeur was hollow inside.

Like that tree, leaders who don't have integrity won't have the inner strength to make it through the tough times. Just over the last month, I've seen the substance of our leaders here at McConnell.

This was evident during a recent teleconference when Gen. Raymond Johns, Air Mobility Command commander, said, while visiting our active duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard forces deployed overseas, that many of these fine Airmen answered the call at a moment's notice and literally said 'goodbye' to their families instead of 'goodnight.' In less than 48 hours, we'd deployed aircraft and crews to set up a tanker task force that led the refueling formations for the first B-2 [Spirits] strikes into Libya."

These men and women, of many Air Force Specialty Codes were Airmen of substance.

Now, as I come to the end of my race as an active duty member of the Air Force, I wonder if you who remain are ready to take the baton and run with the same enthusiasm that I have.

I wonder if you are ready to take this organization to the next level. After much reflection on what I've seen for the last two and a half years as a member of "Team McConnell (AIRPOWER!)," I can leave this service with a smile of confidence, knowing that you are ready. Your future is bright and you're going to do far more than I could ever have done.

Take it. The baton is yours. Run with courage, I know you're ready for all the future has in store!