"...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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served and to your families for enduring the stresses. My thoughts go out to our brothers on the ground doing the job in Afghanistan and Iraq during these difficult times. I am humbled by your service and sacrifice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Moral Go Speed

In the flying business we have something called "go speed" which we apply to taking off from a runway. After go speed is reached on a takeoff roll, we are committed to the takeoff and we have to make sure all available power is used to get airborne before we go off the end of the runway.

I have spent some time over the last couple of years thinking about the importance of integrity. Our first Core Value is "integrity first" and yet I see an amazing lack of it at times. As I have posted before, I'm puzzled by public servants who seem unable to do the right thing when the worst case for standing up for what is right is retiring on a world class pension. I'm not sure if it's the quest for the next rung in a ladder that never ends, simple pride, or an indication of a fundamentally flawed moral character to begin with. I'm sure the problem is complex.

I think two ideas that have taken root in our culture might have something to do with creating or reinforcing people with less than stellar integrity. First is the idea that we should pick our battles. This idea is typically communicated to mean "don't pick battles you can't win." I suppose the idea is that we should only pick the low hanging fruit and stand up for issues we know we can win based on some kind of political calculation. It's like an Operational Risk Management formula applied to doing the right thing. But this idea suggests we shouldn't stand up for what is right if it might mean detriment to our careers. This cultural phenomenon certainly doesn't reflect the Core Value of "service before self" and I would argue that expertise in making such self-centered political calculations, while considered a skill by some, is really a vice that has led our service and our country down a very bad road.

The second idea that has taken root in my experience is the myth that by not standing up for "small" issues in the present, our career will put us in a place where we can stand up for bigger issues and have a greater impact in the future. This seems a rationalization to me. There will always be another rung to climb and yet another rationalization for failing to stand up for what is right. Still I realize the importance of the hierarchy of needs and the impossibility of a pure "service before self" ethic.

The first cultural idea produces politicians instead of leaders. Courage is substituted for the perception of courage and those who must do a political ORM assessment before doing right are not concerned that taking on battles they may not win may move the ball for the next guy. They are not team players and they are completely lacking in the "service before self" arena. The second cultural idea, however, has some merit but it requires setting a moral go speed.

I encourage military officers to set a moral go speed. Write it down and honor it. After I have achieved X, Y, and Z while funded and rewarded by taxpaying ordinary citizens, I will then dedicate the rest of my career to service for the benefit of the country. Once you have hit your moral go speed, don't look back and give it everything you've got.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To Be or To Do?

"In accomplishing all these things, Boyd – a brilliant, eccentric, and stubborn character – had to overcome a large measure of bureaucratic resistance and institutional hostility. He had some advice that he used to pass on to his colleagues and subordinates that is worth sharing with you."

"Boyd would say, and I quote: 'one day you will take a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go [one] way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go [the other] way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself … If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself … To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision. To be or to do?'"

- From the Speech by Secretary Gates given at Air University in 2008