Embrace change as it happens

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Morrissey
  • 32nd Flying Training Squadron Commander
A call to arms! When I was half way through T-37s during pilot training at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz., the leadership called us into the base theater and informed us that due to the post Gulf War draw down. They would be changing the way the assignment process worked. At the end of pilot training, only about one-third of the graduates would actually go to a flying assignment. The rest of the graduates would be placed in a pilot "bank" and go to other specialties for one tour and then get recalled to flying status out of the bank. 

This caused a huge uproar - nobody expected the change, and at first, everyone was very anxious about what the change would mean. Some of my closest friends got "banked." Some resented the Air Force and complained about the raw deal until their recall. Others saw the change for the opportunity it was. Some earned master's degrees, while others got great jobs they normally would not be eligible for. 

After I got to my first assignment at Andrews AFB, Md., the commander called us all together and told us we would fundamentally change the way we did business. The Air Force was going to align more with the corporate world and institute Total Quality Management or Quality Air Force. The following year, the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak changed our uniforms to be more distinctive and added rank to our sleeves like the Navy - two years later the uniforms changed again. The next year, the personnel center moved to an all volunteer assignment system - three years later, they changed it again. Most recently we transitioned to an Expeditionary Air Force, and the way we train and educate our Airman changed. We now hear about further force reductions, additions of F-22s, U-28s and UASs to Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training assignment drops. 

My point is the only constant I have seen in the Air Force is change. Those that adapt and change quickly succeed, while those that do not are often left behind. I read a great book a few years back by Dr. Spencer Johnson entitled, "Who Moved My Cheese." It tells the story of four distinct characters: Sniff - a mouse who sniffs out change early, Scurry - a mouse that scurries into action, Hem - a mouse who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse, and Haw - a mouse who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing leads to something better. 

The characters live in a maze and every day go to a certain section of the maze a where they are provided with cheese. After a year of going to the same place for cheese, one morning they show up and there is no cheese. The book tells the story of how Sniff immediately moves through the maze to find new cheese. Reluctantly, Scurry follows Sniff to the new cheese. Hem and Haw continue to go to the same place in hopes that the old cheese will reappear ... it does not. Finally, Haw realizes he will have to leave Hem and search out new cheese. In the end, Haw finds new cheese and returns to show Hem the way to new cheese. The point of the book is that change is scary and we all react to it differently. 

Regardless of how we react to change, we must see the handwriting on the wall:
1. Change happens - They keep moving the cheese
2. Anticipate change - Get ready for the cheese to move
3. Monitor change - Smell the cheese often, so you know when it is getting old
4. Adapt to change quickly - The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy the new cheese
5. Enjoy change - Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese
6. Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again - They keep moving the cheese 

We are undergoing a lot of change in the Air Force. Some of you have not embraced it and keep looking for the old cheese. The old cheese isn't coming back, so embrace the new cheese - it smells much better. We are reducing manning and incorporating technology where it makes sense. We are looking for new, more efficient ways to accomplish the mission. We are lean and expeditionary. Whether you agree with the changes or not, we must embrace change and do everything in our power to make the mission happen. Our country and its citizens deserve no less from the greatest air, space and cyberspace force on the planet.