It's not often I get to sing the praises of a senior leader in our service, but I really enjoy the rare opportunities I have to do so. I was given a great opportunity a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the current Air Force Chief of Staff. General Welsh, in perhaps the perfect textbook act of leadership, empowered all airmen in our service to do what makes sense for mission and people, even if that means not following a regulation.
The Air Force Times did a good job seizing on the most important aspect of the General's speech, quoting the CSAF stating, "We’ve got a lot of frustrated people out at the front end of the Air Force who don’t understand why they are given guidance to do things that don’t make any sense to them." The guidance General Welsh gave:
If it doesn’t make common sense, if it doesn’t make the mission better, if it doesn’t take better care of our people, then just don’t do it and tell your boss...
That may sound revolutionary or perhaps even naive to some. But it most certainly is not. It is brilliant and it is combat tested. Robin Olds comes to mind. But there are also modern examples. In my years flying the AC-130 Gunship for Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), each time we got a new squadron commander, unfailingly we were told at the very first commander's call that if we knew the regulations and broke them to get the mission accomplished, our commander would have our back. Each commander followed that up with a reminder that if we broke regulations because we did not know them, they would fry us. This was not an invitation to suck, to be lazy, or to not care. I want to emphasize that every single squadron commander gave that disclaimer up front (four commanders in my time spent in the community). They told us this, because it was important and they knew we were dedicated and mature enough to think and to get the mission done successfully. And we did. And we were truly exceptional doing it.
General Welsh has empowered us the same way. For those who think it was just a speech, the Air Force Times article tells us General Welsh claims he is "dead serious." In the video link above, you can witness the Chief saying it. Beyond that, I have heard other senior leaders echo this sentiment, pointing to these specific words from the CSAF, to those who complain about the myriad of serious problems we suffer in our air service. In the video above, the CSAF says that the MAJCOM commanders understand his guidance. In the political reality in which we live, where so many military officers psychologically trade in their uniforms for the clothes and fake smiles of politicians, I understand mistrust of those who climb the ladder. I certainly reserved a bit of mistrust for General Welsh when he took command.
But listening to him talk about his father, and his father's amazing acts of service, in addition to the obvious qualities General Welsh brings to the table, was enough to earn my trust. You simply don't have a father like Colonel Welsh and not care. It's not possible. You don't become CSAF without being intelligent and competent. Caring, intelligence, and competence is a superb combination.
The BLIM is this--if you are acting in the best interest of the service and the nation, regardless of the friction that might cause, your service will not be lost while General Welsh is at the helm.
I would, however, advise all to remember the words of my ghostly commanders from the past. Know the regs, know the mission, and be doing the right thing for the mission. Maturity. Authority brings responsibility. Study before treading lightly.
The gauntlet has been thrown down, and it's not just words from a speech writer. The boss has gotten the message out, and it's trickling down. There should be no misunderstandings, and there are no longer any excuses for not getting it done. There is, however, a responsibility to mentor our peers and subordinates on the maturity required to handle this increased authority that each of us has been given to take care of mission and people.
General Welsh threw the gauntlet down. While he fights for resources in a tough environment, he has given us the green light to do what makes sense for the nation. It's time for us to pick the gauntlet up, and take care of business for the American people. General Welsh has our back.