VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Story One: The day was overcast but breezy. She was struggling to survive in the cold but doing her best. I was only 10 years old but had seen it done before. Covered in mud, I pulled. She pushed. And a baby bull calf was born before my eyes.
With pride I sprinted to the house to get Dad and I will never forget my boost in confidence.
Story Two: Perfect spring day. Two-ship formation. I was 36 years old and had seen it done before. Inverted during Extended Trail Level 3, I couldn’t find my wingman but the new instructor pilot who had control of the aircraft said he did. The maneuver being flown was getting botched, so I directed the upgrade IP to call a Knock It Off to reset the formation. About two seconds later I saw a blue streak only 50-75 feet away flash directly in front of us.
With shock I took the aircraft, ordered another Knock It Off over the inter-plane radio. I will never forget this near mid-air collision and my loss of confidence.
Age, weather, and situations aside, an Airmen’s confidence is directly related to life experience. One experience may increase your confident nature, yet another might diminish it. For countless Airmen past and future, Vance AFB and the UPT experience is the beginning of a cultural foundation towards confidence.
Vance’s mission statement is clear: Develop Innovative Airmen, Deliver Pilots, Deploy Warriors and Demonstrate our Culture. Collectively, instilling confidence becomes a catalyst towards building and experiencing mission success.
Confidence in self Develops Innovative Airmen. Being selected for any position within our United States military is an honor. From support personnel to those Delivering and Deploying, all those in uniform have made the cut and answered the call as American Airmen.
We can never falter in building confidence--to do so would risk mission achievement.
On the flight line, student pilots and controllers learn emergency procedures and checklist usage from the very beginning. Reciting general knowledge in front of peers and handling adversity boosts not only an Airman’s confidence, but that of the entire team around them. Conversely, failing to instill confidence in a fellow Airmen promotes insufficient, marginalized performance.
Medical technicians, maintenance and Security Forces (just to name a few) are no different.
We’ve all heard the “break them down, to build them up” philosophy. Pushing to the limit may break down an Airmen’s composure, but it also opens their eyes to things they may not have thought possible.
I never thought I would fly our nation’s war machines the day that calf was born, but leaders I was fortunate enough to encounter paved the way. Moreover, the loss of self-esteem from my near mid-air collision actually produced a greater confidence regarding risk mitigation and teaching other Airmen to do the same.
Instilling a culture of confidence is associated with our immediate task to Deliver Pilots. Isn’t the 71 FTW goal to pin wings and career field badges on the chests of America’s Airmen? To grow our mid-level Airmen, to give them the confidence to make strides toward the next rank, the bigger job?
Yes, our mission is to create pilots, but an even greater goal is to lift Vance personnel to a higher level of training that corresponds with our chosen career fields. That allows for risk taking and the increased assurance that comes from success.
Now I know what you might think; pilots are over confident, maybe even arrogant. I beg to differ. I believe the negative connotation of arrogance comes from personal character. The power within positive confidence produces an Airman who mentality and physically meets challenges head on. To instill that confidence in others, leaders must push beyond an Airman’s perceived capability and reward them with a pat on the back for extra effort, formal recognition of goal attainment, or providing ownership over their positional responsibility without arrogance.
Negative transfers such as micro-management or lack of leadership rapidly deteriorate confidence at various levels up and down the chain of command. As an institution, we cannot solely focus on manning or the number of pilots produced. Creating a strong leader, be they officer or enlisted, has to become just as important.
Confidence has a hand-in-hand relationship with our Warrior Ethos. I’m talking about the mentality required to egress an emergency aircraft, egress a war zone, or egress your daily duties at the end of a long day with combatant pride.
The day I pulled that bull calf I felt respected by family and friends, even respect from the ole cow I thought might trample me.
The day I saw a blue grim reaper fly in front of my canopy I felt more alive, more able to promote confidence in others.
Today, Vance Airmen must collectively swarm, outperform and withstand any adversary to include problems with a jet, attrition of weather or inabilities of skill because the battle with safety and timeline is real. Mutual reliance in a culture built from confidence in one another will permeate to joint and coalition operations, allowing us to kick down doors when called upon.
My personal experiences may be completely different from other military members, however, the mission is to build assured Airmen while constructing a confident force able to defend our liberties.
Timeline and numbers are not our operational capability, building confident future leaders is.
My challenge to you: How will you lead? How will you step up your role in pilot training? How will you fight for building confidence in America’s future force? How will you demonstrate our culture of confidence?
I want to see it done, again.