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Seen it done before (2 of 3) – Proficiency

Lt Col Perry

Lt. Col. Nathan Perry, 71st Operations Support Squadron director of operations, on the Vance Air Force Base flight line. (U.S Air Force photo/ Terry Wasson)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Story One: The day was balmy with huge cumulus clouds. My Angus show steer at the local county fair outweighed me 13:1. As I led him front and center to receive a Reserve Champion ribbon he was startled by applause from the crowd.

My Dad has always said, “Hold onto that lead rope no matter what!”

I was just a kid but had seen it done before.

Instantly I was horizontal and being drug across the arena. After earning a quivering lip and ripped shirt, I stood up to see the steer now slowing to a strut dragging only the rope across the arena. With embarrassment, I looked for help and I will never forget the sense of failure.

Story Two: A standard Vance AFB (windy) summer day. Single-ship aircraft with a student pilot in the first block of training, ride three. I was demonstrating a Nose Low Recovery procedure at 120 degrees of bank accelerating toward the earth. I was a Capt and had seen it done before.

Bringing the power back to the idle position and rolling to the nearest horizon, a familiar but disheartening alarm began to sound in my helmet. The new student panicked at the engine failure warning, incorrectly commenced a memorized procedure called Boldface and a normal sortie just got complicated.

With shock, I directed my student to show me his hands. Still unbelieving, I told myself to figure out this single-engine aircraft’s engine failure.

Life experience and flying currency aside, proficiency is a goal every Airman must strive to attain, and more importantly, maintain.

Regardless of the scenario… attempting to prove my worth in a dirt arena with a large animal versus recovering an aircraft during engine problems, I’ve learned that proficiency in any position requires a planned course of action.

To remind us, the 71st Flying Training Wing mission is: To Develop Innovative Airmen, Deliver Pilots, Deploy Warriors, and Demonstrate our Culture.

We live in an era constrained by constant demands to accomplish more with fewer resources, to include time. In an era where proficiency becomes a byproduct of efficient training practices. Therefore, how do we become more proficient in less time while ensuring mission success?

It starts with Developing Innovative Airmen who pursue a proficiency level I like to call “Beyond.” Beyond your years, beyond your title and beyond your assigned area of responsibility.

Generally, Airmen in the United States Air Force start a career simply not knowing their true capability. Ever heard the notion of “solve the problems of your boss’ boss” and pondered the level of proficiency that requires?

For example, if I singularly do my office job at an excellent degree, then I don’t necessarily recognize the overall worth of my section. If I just fly a good jet but don’t understand the maintenance schedule or the time and effort of all Vance personnel involved in my sortie, my development as a future leader stalls.

That 1,300 pound steer only drug me on my chest for 15-20 feet but my extra effort showed the crowd that I was pre-determined to go farther than expected. Go “beyond” in your desire for proficiency, look for ways to accomplish efficiency and tap the experience of those who have been there before.

Current and future demands for proficiency are also directly related to our immediate task to Deliver Pilots. And by that, I mean more pilots than in years past and more 7-level personnel in less time.

Better leaders…faster!

Amidst rebuilding manpower and sustaining readiness, we are responsible for maintaining integrity towards quality vice the quick solution to modify quantity. Similar to my 1,300 pound steer, the quantity of requirements are fast moving with multiple changes. Let’s hold tightly to continuous innovation by demanding expertise in tactics, operational competence and execution of strategic vision…all needful of proficient Airmen.

Needless to say, big concepts like these never crossed my mind while strapped into a sick jet or wrangling a steer. I could have let go of the jet by calling for ejection but proficiency in tactics and operations prevailed. I could have let go of the steer right away, but pre-calculated vision helped me go beyond fear. In the same manner, continuing to deliver quality trained Airmen in every office on base requires planned proficiency in educational settings where failures are corrected.

Lastly, proficiency stands strong alongside the Warrior Ethos. Vance cannot simply produce graduates by equipping them with skill and general knowledge.

Each one of us has an obligation to mold future warriors’ attitudes toward proficiency.

For example, risk management requires not only skill and knowledge, but the unique characteristic of decision making. In my simple words this means increasing proficiency in a current position while pursuing a more broad understanding in order to better those who follow or lead.

It’s a battle that takes mental effort. One that does not promote complacency, but that forces you to re-start any flailing engine you encounter with entrenched combatant boldness.

I was able to start the engine that summer day but only after I truly evaluated the fight in which I was engaged. This did not require a good defense but a swift, war-like offense to attack a compounded problem. Once the jet started giving usable thrust we climbed and returned to base with a sense of dexterity and proficiency. We won the battle between man and machine. Where is your battlefield with proficiency?

My experience on those two days may be completely different than yours, however, the mission of building confident Airmen while constructing a proficient force to defend our liberties must remain. Graduating pilots is not our sole operational duty, it includes building proficient leaders.

My challenge to you, knowing you have seen it done before, is this: How will you become more proficient? How will you be proficient in supporting a higher ops tempo? How will you fight for a culture of building proficiency in America’s future force? I want to see it done, again.