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Think outside the box

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Todd Ivener
  • 37th Helicopter Squadron commander
Mighty Ninety Airmen work in a challenging environment. We have difficult tasks which are often accomplished in demanding conditions, and these realities are made more relevant by the significance of the tasks we are given.

Our profession is vital, and the consequences of our success or failure shape the welfare and security of our nation. Our duties are seldom glamorous, and we can never afford to have a bad day.

So is there room in our performance for mistakes? For complacency or poor attention to detail? For misdeeds?

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." ― Albert Einstein

Humans are fallible; as a result, we make mistakes. Fortunately, knowing that truth empowers us to avoid complacency.

If you realize you can-- and will - make mistakes, then you simultaneously discover that you can do something about it.

As an institution, Airmen attempt to minimize mistakes through superior training, continuous mentoring and honest feedback. However, we all learn more from mistakes than we do from perfection. Failure provides us with an opportunity to re-evaluate our processes and develop improvements in the way we operate.

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes." ― Mahatma Gandhi

The Force Improvement Program, implemented by Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilsons, commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, empowered us with increased learning opportunities during training environments.

I challenge each of you to take advantage of this freedom by developing realistic scenarios to hone your professional skills. Evaluate your processes impartially and develop training scenarios that test your weaknesses. If your processes lead to mistakes, then fix them. The lessons you learn are yours for the rest of your career!

"While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior." -- Henry C. Link

Superior Airmen don't become superior by accident. They proactively correct their shortfalls and constantly challenge both themselves and their peers.

Superior Airmen realize they are part of a team, and their first priority is to make the team superior. In practice, these goals are not always easy to attain. They require sacrifice, selflessness and a proactive culture.

You know your own processes better than anyone, so you are the most qualified to improve them. Discuss realistic training options with your supervisor and discover ways to make your shop even better.

Humans make mistakes. Training gives you an opportunity to learn from mistakes, making you safer, more secure and more effective in your duties.

But are all mistakes acceptable? What makes one mistake useful and another unacceptable - or even criminal?

Intent is the primary factor in the differentiation between mistakes and misdeeds. Put simply, mistakes are accidents that occur when a person with good intent commits an error.

Misdeeds are fundamentally different, because they occur when an error is committed by a person with poor intent. Unlike mistakes, misdeeds are intentional actions, not accidents.

Misdeeds have no place in our Air Force. We must all periodically internalize our Core Values and make them the foundation of our conduct.

Integrity is often defined as, "Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking." If you act with integrity, you will by definition have good intent. As a result, you may make mistakes, but you will never commit misdeeds.

"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have." ― Abraham Lincoln

Good wingmen have integrity and that integrity is reflected in their actions. If you see poor intent surface in the actions of your friends or colleagues, have the courage to stop it.

Don't wait for a better opportunity, because there's no better time to stop misdeeds than right away. Ending poor intent immediately will reinforce to everyone that misdeeds are never acceptable in our Air Force and that true wingmen don't allow other Airmen to voluntarily tarnish the reputation of us all.

"He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice." ― Albert Einstein

Finally, think outside the box! Don't do something a certain way simply because that's the way it's always been done. In our business, we desperately need critical thinkers to find efficiencies in every aspect of our operations.

Use your imagination, and be creative when problem solving. But most importantly, never let stale processes or peer pressure dictate your intent.

Servicemen and women have a profession unlike any other. This nation places its trust in each of us from the instant we take the oath.

From that moment on, every one of us must earn that trust. Each day you accomplish the mission should make you proud of the country you serve - but more importantly, it should make you proud of the men and women who serve with you.