Commentary Search

Commander shares his book of wisdom

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher Coffelt
  • 90th Missile Wing commander
Since 1994, I have kept a small journal I call my "book of wisdom." In it I have kept quotes, sentiments, and lessons about leadership to ensure I always remember where I came from, and ensure I could always put into practice all those leadership elements I appreciated as a younger Air Force member and avoid those that weren't, let's say, as effective as they could be. When I started the journal, the very first sentiment I wrote in my book was one I felt was most important and should guide every entry into the book as well as my leadership journey from there forward. What I wrote was "There is something to learn from everyone you meet" and over the 17 years that I have kept the journal it has proven to be 100 percent correct. At our recent Airman Leadership School graduation dinner, I was privileged to see a presentation about 9/11 that spoke volumes about leadership, patriotism, and professionalism in our profession of arms. It truly moved me to witness the class' deep understanding of that event and all that is required of us ... and all Airmen who have joined our ranks since that day. Today, it is my great pleasure to re-print for you ALS class 11-G's absolutely awesome class presentation which greatly instructed me and enriched my leadership journey as I know it will yours. Class 11-G--you are officially and forever in my "book of wisdom."

"In remembrance of past events in the month of September, we reflect on our duties as leaders and our responsibility to our families and country. Almost 10 years to the day, we are humbled by the sacrifices and dedication of the first responders who gave so much at a moment's notice. And like them, no matter what the cost, no matter what the calling, we as future leaders take the mantle of service upon ourselves to secure the foundations on which this nation stands. As post 9/11 enlistees, we understand the weight of our role. Our past few weeks in ALS, we have been honing our skills as supervisors, peers, and mentors. By utilizing these skills, we accept the challenge of guiding new generations to ensure the privileges and freedoms we enjoy as a nation. As leaders, we are reminded of our resolve to demonstrate our professionalism in all we do. An outward expression of that professionalism is the uniform we put on every day. Our uniform identifies us as military members and servants of the people. Every time we put on the uniform, we should consider its symbolism as we perform our daily duties.

"The pants are one of four main elements that make up the uniform.

"Just as we put our pants on one leg at a time, similarly, in order to become an effective leader one must first master being a proficient follower. After mastering followership, we must continue our growth as leaders. Leadership is the combination of tangible skills and personality to motivate people to accomplish goals. The focus of leadership is to direct and utilize performers to accomplish organizational goals in an effective, timely manner. This process begins for members of the Air Force in basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Our responsibility to instill confidence in our nation's citizens is of the utmost importance, and that our mission and duty to protect them will be fulfilled.

"The New York City Fire Department quickly deployed 200 units, which was half of the department, to the site. Their efforts were supplemented by numerous off-duty firefighters who responded. Within hours of the attack, a substantial search and rescue operation was launched. After months of around-the-clock operations, the World Trade Center site was cleared by the end of May 2002. On Sept. 11, 2001, in their effort to evade the collapse of the twin towers, 343 firefighters died.

"As we step into our boots, we are reminded of those who forged a path to freedom by giving the ultimate sacrifice.

"Each day we follow in their footsteps, trying to pursue the idea of excellence in the path they led, tightening our straps, we recall the discipline and military bearing each one of us exude as we undertake our obligation to the citizens of this great country. The tough soles remind us that the road to victory is not easy, and if we are to endure that road we must be just as tough. Lastly, tying our laces embraces the bond of the community's expectations with our ability to execute.

"Doctors and nurses dedicated many hours of overtime to treat the wounded. Many of them did so with little to no rest for the following days. Several medical professionals came from surrounding cities and states helping with the many victims. People with less medical training also volunteered to aid in the help of the wounded.

"The blouse is the dominant element of our uniform.

"As we put on our blouse, we are reminded of the responsibility to the nation on our shoulders. We wear the U.S. Air Force across our hearts with pride, knowing what we are fighting for. We are respected. We have honor and courage. Our blouse also covers our arm as a symbol of strength. We are strong leaders for this great nation. There are four buttons which we fasten together reminding us of the four levels of readiness we need to succeed as a leader. These levels are technical, physical, spiritual, and mental. They are what hold us together.

"This first responder represents the police and their reply to the tragic events that occurred on 9/11. The events that took place happened within a moment's notice requiring an immediate response. The police department sent emergency service units and deployed their aviation units as well. The officers issued the orders of evacuation of civilians from the twin towers. They executed all possible efforts to aid in the safety and security of our people.

"The cover is the final element of our uniform.

"Upon donning our cover, we are reminded that above our needs comes the needs of the people we serve. It provides protection from the elements, just as our military function is to protect others from the unjust and those who would cause them harm. As we raise our hand to salute, we initiate the long-time tradition of respecting the colors that have represented resiliency and the ability to overcome adversity.

"No matter what job specialty we hold, we are all military professionals. As such, we are held to the highest standards. Being leaders in the world's strongest military power, we understand that it is our unity as a force that keeps us strong. It is also the unity of our country that will continue to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.

"During the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against targets in New York and Washington DC, 184 lives were lost in an instant at the Pentagon. The Pentagon Memorial is built on 1.9 acres of land within view of the crash site of American Airlines Flight 77. The Memorial reflection benches were opened to the public on September 11, 2008.

"Two-thousand-seven-hundred-fifty-three lives were taken as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Touched and saddened by the impact, Zurab Tseretelli was inspired to create a memorial officially titled, 'To the Struggle Against Terrorism,' but is also known as 'Tear Drop Memorial.' This impressive memorial was built and installed in Bayonne, New Jersey as a gift from the Russians honoring those who died on 9/11. Standing 100-feet tall, it features a steel reflective tear drop through a jagged center view on the tower. The names of those killed are etched in granite on the 11-sided base. These memorials along with several others represent sadness and grief over loss of life, but also hope for a future free from terror. That future, we as leaders of tomorrow are solely responsible for.

"Ten years ago we invaded Afghanistan in an effort to secure our homeland. Although our class is comprised of different job specialties, cultures, and backgrounds ... our common bond is that we answered our nation's call after 9/11. We are the new leaders of the future Air Force.

"On this 10-year mark as leaders, we are reminded of our responsibilities, followership and leadership roles, our heritage, our honor, our bond as a nation, and those who sacrificed their lives so that we may put on this uniform every day with a sense of pride and purpose."