War Time Leadership

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt Jeff Walston
  • 507th Air Expeditionary Group
"I'd go to war with you anytime," may just be a phrase used to make junior Airmen feel good, but in today's high-tempo environment it's more likely than not, the truth.

Sooner or later, if you are in the Air Force, so I am told, you are going to deploy to the AOR. I am now witness to that fact.

Now, more often than not, I am hearing young Airmen make comments about the NCOs and officers they "would go to war with."

In the old days, when I was in the Navy, anyone who could shoot a Thompson submachine gun with the right hand and simultaneously with the left, an M-14, all the while maintaining an effective-directional suppressive field of fire, was someone I would go to war with "anytime." My personal standards were, and still are, pretty high.

I recently read an article by Air Commodore Aslam Bazmi, Pakistani Air Force, Retired, concerning "Senior Leader Perspective," in the Air & Space Power Journal Fall 2007 issue. It proved to be interesting reading while I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned.

Over the 30 plus years my career has spanned, I have been fortunate enough to have met, been led by, worked for, worked with, admonished by, decorated by, become friends with and attended the retirements of, what I believe are some of the finest leaders the United States military has ever produced. Contrary to popular belief, I did not serve with Patton.

As informative as Commodore Bazmi's article about leadership was, for me it missed the mark. Albeit well written, I found myself meandering through a lot of four-dollar words like conspicuousness, idiosyncrasies, eschewing, myopic, sycophants and obsequiousness.

According to the Air Force Personnel Center Web site, only 17.6 percent of active-duty enlisted personnel have an associate degree or equivalent semester hours. Although I consider myself to be rather intelligent, the degree of my smartedness has been debated on numerous occasions.

Based on personal experience, I feel the qualities of leadership needed to instill respect and credibility to a person in an authority position for the benefit of those they command and the success of the mission should be addressed on a slightly less educated level.

My first submarine commander was a very knowledgeable man. I don't think there was anything he didn't know about our boat. He didn't come off like a know-it-all. If I was supposed to know it, he already did. There was never a doubt in my mind; he knew his job and mine as well. A submariner worth his salt can do everyone's job in an emergency. From cook to captain, that's the way we were trained.

It's one thing to command; it is truly another to stand courageously toe-to-toe with your people when it finally hits the fan. I was honored and privileged to serve under a skipper who stood with five of his troops as we faced the most extreme conditions that could have killed us all. By the grace of God we survived, and were decorated for our efforts.

I think a good leader must be a motivator. For me, the best motivation is a good story that relates to whatever I need to accomplish. As fate would have it, so far, the higher the rank the better the stories have been.

I know one colonel who is master story teller and motivator. His stories always lasted a few minutes, and I always wondered where the heck he was going with Lipizzan Stallions that hadn't had a drink of water in a week before they ran into a corral when they should have been drinking at the river or something like that. So, there I stood not understanding anything he was saying until the last couple of sentences when it hit me like a rock in the side of the head, and I was again ready to charge forward with the fierceness of a Spartan.

My most recent experience with what I believe is true leadership was with of all people, a dentist. The passion this colonel has for those in uniform who he and his people serve is in my opinion beyond reproach. I sat face to face with the colonel who told me that at first glance he thought we were "going to bump heads." Now honestly, in a head-bumping contest between O-6 and E-6 - what are the odds that it's going to come out well for the E-6? A rhetorical question. After a 30-minute discussion, I discovered another man I would truly go to war with, at anytime.

Some say leadership is something you are born with. Others say you can be taught. I believe leadership is what you know and how you apply it to those under your command.

I know knowledge, dedication, passion, courage, honesty and being a motivator are key aspects of what I look for in those who lead me. I believe you can't treat everyone the same. People react differently to the same stimuli. I believe a good leader understands that and has a plan to deal with people and their needs. But, that's just me.

Recently, I was told my commentaries have tendency to "meander through my personal life" and they "don't get to the meat of the story until the very end." "You need to sock your readers in the beginning." I appreciate input.

However, personally, I write to make a point and hope it sticks in the minds of those who need to hear it. See, I'm a story teller and always have been - ask anyone who knows me. I've been telling stories since I was a little kid. I don't write to win awards, and I'll probably never win another one. The problem for me is, I just don't understand why I'm not a Chief or Colonel by now.