"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Storming, Norming, and Performing - Friction Produces Light

I can still remember from my AFROTC days learning about group dynamics and how several people can go from a mass of opinions and vectors and converge into a unified force. The term "storming, norming, and performing" has never left me. That early lesson has been reinforced in combat many times over and has taught me that beauty isn't always beautiful when it's being made. One particular night comes to mind.

I was the aircraft commander of a 13 man crew flying a hostage rescue mission in Iraq. We had a liaison officer (LNO) onboard from one of our supported ground teams. The mission was given to us in the air without prior planning and was dangerous for a couple of reasons beyond the scope of this discussion. It was not a routine mission. It wasn't even a routine hostage rescue.

During the mission I noticed the internal crew communication tended to be a bit more "polite" and guarded and didn't flow quite as naturally as it usually did. I realized this was due to the guys wanting to put their "best foot forward" and sound "professional" with the LNO on board. What would he think if crew members were arguing and people weren't providing a unified message? What would he tell his buddies? Crew members were arguing with the aircraft commander? I told my crew to stop being polite and to cease all concern about the LNO on board. He was part of our crew and this was business as usual. We normed and performed as we always did and thankfully there were no friendly casualties during the operation despite the mission having been more than interesting. After the long mission we headed home and debriefed upon landing with the LNO and I discussed communication with my crew. What I told them reached back to my classroom days in AFROTC and I think is very salient today.

Beauty isn't always beautiful being made. It takes friction to produce light. The advantage of a crew and a team is its composition of many different individuals with different opinions and ideas but with a unifying common concern for our mission. Being polite is a distant second to getting out the message to the decision maker. What we provide outside our aircraft is unified and solid. The process inside the aircraft isn't always going to be so. The LNO emphatically agreed. In our aircraft the process might look chaotic, perhaps resembling something out of John Boyd's creative destruction theory, but the end product is beautiful.

I've worked with the best and most patriotic guys in the Air Force and there was plenty of friction. The end result, however, was a perfect blend of the creative energies of multiple minds dedicated to getting the job done. It was beautiful. I think I see this mission focused mentality strengthening our service thanks to the leadership of the CSAF and it fills me with pride to be a part of this service.

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