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The right place, the right time

  • Published
  • By Col. Craig Alton
  • 90th Security Forces Group commander
Before coming to Warren from the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters to assume command of the greatest Security Forces Group in the world, I was already familiar with the 20th Air Force and 90th Missile Wing missions. I started my career in 1991 as a flight commander in the 89th Missile Security Squadron working in the 321st Missile Squadron area of operations. In those days we were part of the 90th Strategic Missile Wing and Strategic Air Command.

In my change-of-command speech, I mentioned that I felt, "I was in the right place at the right time." Looking back, I didn't know how accurate that statement really was. I knew that all Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are real life "superheroes," carrying on the fine traditions of America's "greatest generations" dating back to our founding fathers, helping nations or states in need, saving countries from imperialistic transgressions, standing up for what is good and right as it relates to freedom and human dignity and preventing countries from invasion and tyranny and witnessing them transition into current potential threats to their free neighbors or the United States.

Our American warriors are a melting pot of many cultures, ethnicities, races, creeds, colors, genders and religions and are truly modern day heroes, highly respected and trusted by the American public, strong and capable partners of our allies and feared by our enemies. I continue to be deeply honored to be a part of the military team.

I was intimately aware of the impact nuclear deterrence had on global operations in the Pacific. Our deployers and missiles on alert, and the other groups who sustain or enable that function, make a global impact each and every day and shape the actions of our potential adversaries.

My predecessor passed on a great commentary from Lt. Col. Charles McElvaine called "The Five Propositions Regarding Nuclear Weapons," which summarize the global impact 20th Air Force heroes make every single day. To paraphrase, our precisely maintained, secured, and operated weapons systems are used every day to deter adversaries and assure our national defense and the defense of our allies, without ever having to detonate a single weapon.

The almost 70 years of peace between great powers is an anomaly in history. There is a strong argument that our mission here in 20th Air Force and at F.E. Warren Air Force Base has prevented world wars and will continue to do so as long as this incredible capability is preserved and improved.

It is because of this deterrence and assurance capability and a ruthless desire to ensure "regime survival" that our potential adversaries seek to acquire their own nuclear weapons, place themselves under the umbrella of another nation who has them or improve the capabilities of the weapons they have. Therefore, our continuous combat readiness is absolutely vital to the Nation and the free world.

Critical to our continuous combat readiness is the preservation and improvement of our capabilities. Air Force Global Strike Command's Force Improvement Program is "the right program at the right time."

The 20th Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein's intent is to challenge the status quo, transform how we lead and follow and change how we care for people, which should improve our combat capabilities and preserve the positive global impacts of peace through deterrence, and if necessary, achieve victory through unparalleled combat reach and effects.

Any organizational management or transformational leadership book you read, such as John Kotter's "Leading Change: Why Transformational Efforts Fail," Simon Sinek's "Leaders Eat Last" or David Marquet's "Turn This Ship Around!," will advocate the benefits of frequent and open communication laterally, from top-down and bottom-up. Clear and concise supervisory intent allows highly-capable Airmen to be empowered and use their ingenuity to solve problems.

Honest, candid feedback allows leaders, and followers, to understand the scope of problems, improve themselves and get the best product and processes while continuously enhancing tactics, training and procedures or making programs more effective and efficient.

There is no such thing as over-communication. I am continuously motivated by the men and women of the Mighty Ninety across all groups and functional disciplines, military and civilians alike. My daily meetings and conversations with other groups, and within my own group, often inspire new ways of looking at problems and ways to find innovative solutions.

We need to collaborate to solve problems, but collaboration is often extremely difficult when and Airman's perspective is given no weight. We have to combat the mentality that "someone's got to take a punch to the jaw" or "lose" to make another mission more efficient or productive. Part of the underlying problem is not enough of us know how we impact the missions or functions other organizations or how they impact ours.

I admit, as a junior officer I had no idea of the wing "system" or systems thinking - how the different groups and squadrons were connected like a network - and it made me extremely obstinate and defensive about changing anything in my organization to help another.

Another part of the problem is the organizational pride at the expense of others' operations - the old proverb, "that's their problem; let them figure it out." We need to self-identify this type of thinking, take off our functional glasses and think about the bigger wing mission and force ourselves to find the "win-win," scenario. In most cases, this scenario is there for us to find if we have the proper attitude, focus, expertise and perspective. Collaboration is not a commander, officer, or senior NCO-centric concept, but an Airman leadership concept.

When you mention the word creativity, everyone rolls their eyes and thinks of poetry, pottery, and paintings. When you think about innovation however, it conjures up images of Silicon Valley, hybrid cars, stealth technology or even DNA mapping.

Supervisors will say, "I don't want innovation; I want my Airmen to follow their technical orders, checklists and instructions," or, "Now is not the time for the 'good idea' fairy." To a certain extent, I have to agree; technical orders, checklists and instructions are there for a reason and surety is critical. However, with the better, smarter and more empowered Airmen we are building at all levels, we also want them to look at how we can execute our missions more efficiently and effectively and how to institute change using the appropriate venues.
Compliance can exist simultaneously with creativity and innovation. Without creative thought and an innovative culture, we might as well be mindlessly putting pieces on widgets on an assembly line, not "defending America with the world's premier, combat ready ICBM force."

Very few people currently picture the ICBM enterprise when speaking the word innovation, but we should grow our Airmen to change that standard, which will energize them with the responsibility.

We must break down the old, "this is the way we've always done it" pattern and replace it with a pattern of asking questions. If something is ineffective or inefficient, is there a good reason we do it that way? Is there a better way to achieve the desired outcome? How do we change it? Who does it impact? Who can I collaborate with to come up with the best solution? These are all tough questions, and we must be ready for the answers and as a team, Airmen must drive the progress.

This is the perfect time for all of us to be a part of the nuclear and ICBM enterprise. Our impact is global. Our mission remains as relevant to the American people and our allies as it was almost 70 years ago. Airmen must continue to think ahead of our potential adversaries and inspire communication, collaboration and innovation at all levels. Now is the time for our team to leave an amazing legacy, continuously improve our combat capabilities, sustain a continued peace through deterrence and assurance and categorically defeat our enemies if called upon to do so. We are all here, "at the right place, at the right time."