Every Airman a leader

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Martin
  • 22nd Maintenance Squadron commander
A couple of years back, Tom Clancy, a renowned author of modern warfare books, interviewed many fighter pilots who fought in the Gulf War, and combined their experiences to craft a novel, which he aptly titled "Every Man a Tiger."

In today's Air Force of lean budgets and even leaner manning, we must strive for a similar goal, "every Airman a leader."

What do I mean by "every Airman a leader?" Well, to put it bluntly, I mean that it is every Airman's responsibility to take a leadership role, both professionally and operationally, in whatever function they serve.

The democratic nature of the U.S. Armed Forces and of the Air Force in particular, is often negatively contrasted to the rigid hierarchies and rugged discipline of the defense services of our friends and allies.

Obviously, individuality, when taken too far, can lead to outcomes incompatible with military service. However, history has proven that within the confines of good order and discipline, the individual nature of the Soldier has been one of our greatest strengths.

One example of this was the reaction of our servicemen during the D-Day landings.

As related by Stephen Ambrose in his classic novel "D-Day," throughout Operation Overlord almost nothing went according to plan. From the misdirected flights of the troop transport aircraft and gliders which led to paratroop drops scattered behind enemy lines, to the misguided landings on Omaha Beach, there were numerous opportunities for the entire campaign to fall apart in the opening hours.

What saved the day? The individual initiative of the American Soldier, Sailor and Airman. When things didn't go according to plan, they assessed the situation, analyzed it in the light of their training and experience, took charge in the absence of their superiors and pressed forward.

It is precisely our practicing of disciplined chaos which makes us so formidable in war, and so, we return to our original premise, "every Airman a leader."

What is required for leadership? In simplified terms, just two things: the knowledge of a person's core convictions and responsibilities, and the courage to act upon them.

You'll notice that nothing in those two criteria requires any specific rank. In fact, leadership can, and in the best of worlds, would be exercised by every member of the service, from the most junior airman to the highest-ranking general, because each brings something unique to the fight.

I often remind my junior Airmen, that warriors play to their strengths, and that their particular strength in relation to their senior ranking is curiosity and enthusiasm.

Our non-commissioned officers, on the other hand, have perhaps the greatest impact on the future of the Air Force. Most of us can name without hesitation our first supervisor, but few who have been in the force more than 10 years can readily name their first commander; front-line supervisors wield unparalleled influence over the kind of force we'll be in 10 years.

Finally, our senior NCOs have the wisdom and experience to know what has worked in the past and is likely to work in the future. They use that experience to formulate solutions with the greatest likelihood of success.

The officer corps, from second lieutenant all the way to four-star general, contributes similarly. It is clear that our force is maximized only when all cylinders are firing in unison, and seriously hampered when any part of the wheel fails to meet it's leadership responsibilities.

Let's return to the criteria outlined for leadership: knowledge of one's core convictions and the courage to act on them.

The first half of the equation has been captured for us in the Air Force's Core Values. Every Airman knows them, and combined, they cover the appropriate response to almost any scenario you are likely to encounter. They are Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.

What remains? Simply the courage to act. Such courage is not easily personified, and in fact, can at times be the toughest of traits to display.

We didn't join the Air Force because of our passivity; on the contrary, we get involved, we make things happen, we lead the fight.

In the 22nd Maintenance Squadron, we are fortunate to have a constant reminder of our leadership responsibilities contained in our squadron motto, "Can do."

As we hone our wartime skills and prepare for the operational readiness inspection, I challenge each of you to adopt a similar attitude and mindset. Be a leader - the future of the Air Force, and our way of life depends on it.