Is There Some of Billy Mitchell in You?

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Military historians and more specifically those that study Air Force history, generally hold mixed feelings about Billy Mitchell. A gifted airman and natural leader on one hand but also pompous, arrogant and the proverbial bull in the political china shop on the other. Mitchell's sense of entitlement and pomposity had very much to do with his background and upbringing. Born into privilege in 1879, he was the grandson of U.S. Senator Alexander Mitchell who made the family fortune in banking and railroads. His own father, John L. Mitchell, was a veteran of the Civil War and also a Senator.

Though born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Mitchell began his military career in a most inauspicious manner; he enlisted. His father's intervention rapidly produced a commission and the rest as they say, is history. World War I brought Mitchell international recognition and acclaim. Heavily influenced by his experiences and study of the theories of leading European airmen such as Sir Hugh Trenchard and Guglio Douhet, Mitchell organized and launched what was the largest strategic bombardment campaign of the war when he deployed 1,500 aircraft in the St. Mihiel air offensive. He returned from World War I with a reputation as the best American Airmen had to offer and widely considered the American Airman to fully realize the potential of airpower.

Following the war, Mitchell became a tireless advocate of an independent Air Force. He ceaselessly pushed his views in the public arena both in print and with audacious demonstrations of strategic bombing's utility. His bombing and sinking of the Ostfriesland in 1921 was conducted in the vain attempt to prove that naval surface forces were obsolete and that airpower could effectively deploy against more traditional methods of combat. Such actions and his less than diplomatic commentaries addressing management of the Departments of War and the Navy, eventually forced Mitchell from the service.

Why mention all of this as we are in a celebratory period marking our 60th anniversary? Simply put, Mitchell was first and foremost a visionary. He realized in the 1920s what many others could not until the 1940s. An independent air arm would be more efficient, more useful and more lethal than one that twisted with the bureaucratic winds of an organization whose focus was ground combat. Mitchell always looked to the horizons. Equally as important, Mitchell embodied a quality we've embraced as part of our Air Force heritage and culture. He always put integrity first even if it meant great personal cost. One can argue as far as the day is long about the wisdom or lack of it in Billy Mitchell's methods, but he none the less sacrificed his career because he felt so strongly he was right. He embodied the first of our core values long before we had them.

The question for all of us then is this. Is there some of Billy Mitchell in you? How many of us are willing to stand up for what we believe to be the correct approach? All of our Airmen today are working and deploying in what is arguably the most challenging and difficult period in the history of the independent Air Force. The Global War on Terror is more challenging that what our Airmen faced with the Gulf War or Bosnia. It is tougher on our Airmen in the Berlin Airlift. The force is paring down to staffing levels never before seen. Do you find yourself wringing your hands over too much work and too little time, or do you follow the Mitchell model and look for a different more innovative way to do business?

As Mitchell was an expert on the employment of airpower, each of us are experts in what we do. If you have some of Billy Mitchell in you, proactively use that expertise to shape your circumstances and advocate change on your terms rather than wait for others to impose change on you.