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Accomplishing the mission through passion, inspiration, motivation

  • Published
  • By Col. Craig Allton
  • 90th Security Force Group commander
So, here I sit... on President's Day, right after Valentine's Day and the NBA All-Star Game, and one week to the biggest inspection we will face in two years. I am challenged to write a leadership commentary and make it immediately relevant without sounding, in the words of famed writer John Grisham, like I'm standing on a soapbox or preaching leadership from a pulpit--which nobody likes.

As I look forward to my final nine months of active duty service, some things have become abundantly clear: why I serve, what I will miss the most and what my favorite part of every day is.

At the wing commander's all-call, I had an epiphany. I would tie the Presidents, passion, and inspiration into an article relevant to our tremendous daily mission.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, "passion (from the Latin verb patere meaning to suffer) is a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion, compelling enthusiasm or desire for anything."

It is more than lust, so let's all take a deep breath and remember I am talking about "passion for the profession" and not "passion as a profession."

We are all in the profession of arms as Airmen, characterized by prolonged training and certification, to protect our nation from enemies through strategic deterrence and, if necessary, global strike.

Are we passionate Airmen? Passion for the profession allows us to continuously motivate each other, seek to better our organizations and people, and seize on inspirational, collaborative opportunities to execute the mission more effectively.

My two favorite Presidents were Abraham Lincoln and George Herbert Walker Bush. Both were impassioned leaders: one trying to save the Union and eliminate slavery in the 19th century, and the other leading the way to unite East and West Germany in the 20th Century, dissolving the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and mobilizing a grand coalition to push back Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

Two of President Lincoln's many quotes on leadership and communication are: "a person will be as happy as they make up their minds to be," and "when I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time figuring out what I'm going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say."

Lincoln's lessons are timeless. We control our own happiness. Happiness inspires connectedness with others. We need to seek connective opportunities with others by seeing their viewpoint or a contrary perspective.

President Bush, self-admittedly not a flamboyant person, was inspired by America's greatness. He said, "America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral purpose. We, as a people, have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world."

What's not to be passionate about? Our mission is incredible. It has been relevant since the end of World War II and bolstered by the powerful heritage of General Curtis LeMay, President Harry S Truman and Strategic Air Command. Since 1945, our weapons have protected the world from major wars and enabled the unconstrained use of all the other instruments of power.

We need to continue telling this story. The echoes of our distinct history and the impacts of our daily readiness will shape the culture of our nuclear enterprise for years to come.

We have seen other examples of passionate professionalism in entrepreneurs who started with an idea in their garage or around a folding card table and transformed their visions into reality. Think of Steve Jobs and Apple, Nick Woodman and GoPro, or Gary Burrell and Garmin.

Are we, as Airmen, so different? Can we not succeed as entrepreneurs in Air Force Global Strike Command or Twentieth Air Force?

We are entrepreneurs, and as leaders we need to encourage a similar spirit in our Airmen. We need to be passionate about improving the way we do business, an entrepreneurial spirit also championed by our leaders at Headquarters Air Force, Global Strike and Task Force 214 with the Force Improvement Philosophy.

According to Matt Ehrlichman, writer at Inc. magazine and the founder of the Porch visual web platform, the entrepreneurial spirit requires passion, a drive to question how things are currently done, an unbridled optimism, an ability to take calculated risks and a talent for executing or getting the job done.

Is this not what the nuclear enterprise demands when determining the requirements for the new ground-based strategic deterrent? How to develop a common operating picture shared by all base command and control nodes? What armored vehicle should take defenders to the fight? What kind of helicopter capability do we need and how should it be armed? Or even whether missile alert facilities will have to be manned in the future? We have to be entrepreneurs, and we are expected to be entrepreneurs. That's exciting and something we could all be passionate about!

As members of the profession of arms, we are affiliated with something truly amazing. Our combatant and functional commands track every military or diplomatic hiccup in the far reaches of the world because we could be called upon, on a moment's notice, to "come to the rescue."

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated it best: "there is no international problem that can be addressed or solved without the engagement and leadership of the United States and everybody knows that. It's just a fact of life."

I was talking to a new friend of mine in Colorado a few weeks ago, and she asked what I did. When I told her and her husband, both around 40 years old, what I did in their United States Air Force, they had absolutely no idea there was an intercontinental ballistic missile complex less than 30 minutes away from their home in Windsor, Colorado.

Generally, most Americans are just like that. War is certainly tragic from what they see on television. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are highly respected, but many non-military communities rarely interact with them. Citizens are detached from those who protect them and only feel the impact of conflict if gas prices rise or attacks hit the American homeland.

Can we expect more from them? They are generally uninformed about our "calling to serve" and cannot comprehend the passionate connection or affiliation we have with each other and our missions. They do not experience similar connections with their employers or workmates. There are very few, if any, companies with the worldwide obligation, footprint, and value of the Department of Defense.

We need to value what we have. We have to be an internally inspired, passionate professional force with an entrepreneurial spirit. We are our own fraternity, sorority and championship sports team all rolled up into one. Who hasn't heard the various chants from the groups: "MSG...The Place to Be!" "If You Ain't Maintenance!?"  "Defenders! Lock and Load!" "Jolly Roger!" and "Who are we...MDG!" chants?

Most retirees or those who separate from the military will tell you of their feeling of loss; loss of current affiliation with their military families and teams and the incredible attachment to something remarkable: our Service. I will certainly miss it when I leave, but we need to understand its importance and presence in all of our lives and appreciate and value the professional connectedness for what is.

Inspiration, passion, the entrepreneurial spirit and professionalism are all about connecting to others. We are connected through common training, certification, mission set, organizational charts, culture and ceremonies. We need to seize on these venues to truly connect with others.

Connection requires talking and listening to one another in person. Modern, electronic connections are emotionless or false without the connection established in person first. Without the knowing and the experience of in-person contact, we project what we want or think onto an electronic identity. We need to truly connect with people in person.

Maya Angelou, another amazing American, said it like this: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

To reach the emotional side of people requires an inspirational, interpersonal connection, not an email or a text.

The best parts of my days or week occur when I spend time and interact with my defenders. My best times include collaborative meetings with my fellow group commanders where narrow-minded or functional biases take a back seat to improving wing operations or the lives of Airmen. My Airmen and peers inspire me. They teach me. I am proud to serve my Airmen and Air Force families every day.

As President Bush stated, we are engaged in a high moral purpose. We are professional Airmen in the greatest military in the world, serving the most amazing nation and people in the world.

As professional Airmen, we are expected to be passionate about our profession and inspire an entrepreneurial spirit to make our missions better every day. We also need to find happiness and fulfillment in what we do. There is so much to be excited and happy about!

Passion, inspiration, and innovation require connecting to people on an emotional level - something our modern gizmos aren't good at. Make people remember how they felt when they worked with you.

Presidents' Day allowed us to reflect on the leadership lessons of our greatest Americans who emphasized the value of our service, the need for inspiration and the power of connection and affiliation. Together, we form an exceptional wing - and the Inspector General team will see that!

When I retire, I will miss my Airmen, the mission and the affiliation of the profession of arms. In the meantime, there is still much to be accomplished with our teams, as always, with passion, innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit!