VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Story One: The day was bone chilling with a foot of snow. A three-day-old bull calf was bawling, stuck in a ravine, his leg broken. Momma cow, ears perked, was anxiously pacing and ready for any threat. Dad was there, but I was 18 years old and had seen it done before.
With caution I slipped past momma down the ravine to pick up that scared bull calf. It was all I could muster to pick him up and inch-worm out of the ditch. At the halfway mark to the truck I felt like puking from exhaustion from his weight and thrashing, all the while under a hostile eye of momma cow.
Dad lowered the tailgate on the truck and with a big exhale I will never forget, a sense of pride overwhelmed me.
Story Two: A choppy, rough flying day at the Dogface auxiliary field. We were 500 feet above ground level and slowing to configure the landing gear. All was normal. I was a new instructor pilot but had seen it done before.
Gear clear? Slightly nauseous from the turbulence, the student appropriately extended the gear. A loud pop sounded, the aircraft shuddered and a small flock of birds passed my right periphery. Oh no, Unsafe Gear Indication coupled with a simultaneous bird strike. Once again a normal sortie just got complicated.
With a big exhale, I took the aircraft and requested Chase Aircraft Procedures. Disgusted with the situation and dreading a partial-gear landing, I will nonetheless never forget the resulting pride, because the student and I managed to avert a potentially catastrophic failure by correctly managing a complex problem.
On a farm field or fighting against the surly bonds, having personal and organizational pride is paramount to the success of any mission. Airmen across the nation understand when a family member is proud of their dreams and accomplishments. Similarly, Airmen across the hall from you or in a different airframe understand when a team is proud of their achievements, and in many cases, that fosters a spirited sense of competition.
In that vein, one could almost say the root cause of mission success is a sub-surface coating of pride.
To finalize my point in this third part of “Seen it done before,” the 71st Flying Training Wing mission is: To Develop Innovative Airmen, Deliver Pilots, Deploy Warriors, and Demonstrate our Culture. Projecting and sharing a sense of pride enhances the crucial strategic, operational and tactical aspects contributing to mission success across not only the Air Force, but all of the armed forces.
Self-importance is an initial cornerstone to pride that is generally missed during the quest to Develop Innovative Airmen. Student pilots throughout Air Education & Training Command adopt a training regimen with high standards and fast-paced informational flow as they prepare mentally for the years’ experience known as Undergraduate Pilot Training.
Soon they are stripped of strengths and repeatedly shown only their current weakness. Although necessary in addressing poor performance, I feel it is vastly more important to celebrate daily triumphs and use them to channel energy with purpose.
The gear issue I experienced started as “what went wrong,” and became “how can we make this procedure better.”
The injured bull calf rescue went from “can I do this,” to “I just conquered a critical task.”
Both experiences gave me a sense of self-importance and made me realize how empowering that self-importance is, not only to me, as a kid or student, but as a leader, regardless of rank.
Knowing a first name. Asking how a team is doing, and meaning it, then attempting to mitigate their concerns. Making a decision that matches directives even when it’s not the easiest one.
Doing all those things with a pride that lacks arrogance and micromanagement. Projection of self-importance within a mission will empower your teammates to grasp greatness in future challenges.
Goals oriented to Deliver Pilots must focus upon quality to maintain superiority in airpower. Maintaining integrity within the system of education is the bedrock strategy in thwarting future adversaries.
As we well know America’s enemies hope our passion for integrity will wane, creating inadequacies in force development and loss of confidence in the system as a whole.
Knowledge in herding cattle helped me during Story One, but grit got it done. Grit during Story Two helped, but quality in training got us home. Grit and knowledge go together, but quality is the lead agent in attaining superiority.
It’s no secret we’re in a pilot shortage, and are looking at ways to increase production while still maintaining quality.
Pride can be the notion that bridges the gap linking integrity, effort and quality. Don’t lose your pride by cutting a corner or passing at an opportunity to work more efficiently towards superiority in training our next combatants.
The mission to Deploy Warriors is not centric to the member, it’s holistic to the family. Military leaders remind us that Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are the “ultimate weapons system.” True as it may be, I would offer that the “system” also includes not only a member’s personal family, but their organizational family as well.
My Dad was the system that gave me the energy to carry a beast through the snow. Everyone from the simulator instructors in my student days, to other aircraft in the area, supervisors of flying, runway supervisory unit personnel and even the student in my cockpit, gave me the capacity to safely return a jet with safe gear.
The best part is that my spouse and kids know these stories and now you do too.
No matter the area of responsibility, be a teammate willing to prepare daily for battle. Even inner-office conflict breeds the warrior ethos if support is shared. This too requires knowledge, grit and a sense of pride.
My experience may be completely different from others, however, the mission of building proud Airmen while building a quality force to defend our liberties must remain steadfast.
Be proud to convey confidence in others, be proud to build proficiency within your ranks, and be proud of our United States Air Force.
My challenge to you: How will you project pride internally and externally?
How will your projection of pride support pilot training?
How will you fight for ensuring pride in America’s future force? Are you skillful enough to link confidence with proficiency into a culture of pride?
I want to see it done, again.