Old Friends and Brothers

I had the honor this morning of having an early breakfast with one of my college classmates and someone who I have respected since the day I met him.

“Chief” is a retired USMC Colonel and current Senior Law Enforcement Officer. He is one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. He is a dear friend and I trust him with my life.

As we often do, we talked about a wide range of things. The military, America, friends, family, and the challenges that America is facing.

He reminded me today in his quiet special way that despite all the challenges our Nation is working through, America is, and will, remain the greatest country in the world.

Thanks Chief.

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer.  Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely and expressly my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the Department of the Air Force.

The Leaders Playbook: “I do solemnly swear or affirm…”

“I (state your name) having been appointed a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies – foreign and domestic, and that I will bare true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that I will well, and faithfully, perform the duties upon the office of which I am about to enter… So help me God.

Yesterday I had the incredible honor and privilege of swearing a brand new 2nd Lieutenant into the United States Air Force. Both into the military, and into the service of our country.

As I stood there in my dress blues on Zoom, while He and His Classmates stood at attention at the other end and he took the Oath of Office, I was reminded of the day a few years back where I took the same Oath of Office. It was a special day for my family and I, and one I remember to this day.

When a Servicemember takes an Oath of Office they are making a legally and morally binding commitment. They are committing to time away from home, they are committing to long hours, and yes they are committing to give their lives for another and for our way of life. If they have a family they are also committing their families to the same selfless sacrifices required to serve. This is a big big deal for anyone.

In this dynamic and difficult chapter we are living through, yesterday was a warm spot that again confirmed the hope that I have for the future of the United States of America.

This young 2LT does not have to serve – he wants to serve and for that, I am incredibly grateful to you and your family.

Thanks, Lieutenant for the honor of Commissioning you, congrats, and now onward to leading great Americans. May you never forget the gift of service upon which you are now entering and may this chapter enriched your life as much as it has mine.

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer.  Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely and expressly my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the Department of the Air Force.

The Leaders Playbook: Memorial Day Memories

This time of year is always a solemn one for those of us who have had the honor and privilege of serving alongside those incredible Americans that have made the ultimate sacrifice. This year I thought I’d write about some of these people and the impact they had on me. I’ve kept it short. May we never forget them. I know I won’t.

Capt Pete Jones, F-16 Pilot. I was a young kid when Pete died. Pete was a legendary F-16 fighter pilot and one of the first. He was on the RAF Bombing Competition team with my Dad and went on to be in the first group of F-16 Fighter Weapons School classes. He was an instructor there when he died. He was one of the first to die from G-Induced Loss of Consciousness. I remember is that he smiled all the time and clearly loved life.

LT Mark Eyre, USN. Mark was a classmate of mine in college and a wonderful human being. He was in a Navy ASW airplane when it crashed in the Middle East. He was the first of our class to pass away and his loss made us all feel very mortal.

Col (Dr) Randy Falk. Randy was one of the kindest and caring people I’ve ever met. I’ve often mourned his loss and that I could not do more to help him through whatever demons he was fighting.

SEAL Neal Roberts, Operation Anaconda. I never personally met Neal but his death impacted me significantly. I always felt like I should have been there that night. I was deployed, but I was not flying. I wish that I had been.

MSgt John Chapman, CCT, Anaconda. Chappie and I met one time. He died the same night Neal did. I regret to this day that I was not there for him.

SrA Jason Cunningham, PJ, Anaconda. I’d never met Jason but heard all about him after he passed away. I felt like I knew him after spending so much time with his squadron mates. He died doing what he wanted too. “That others may live”.

LtCol Dillion MacFarland, F-16 Fighter Pilot. McFly was a legend when I was a young Fighter pilot. He was always a teacher and we were all shocked when we heard that he’d passed away on a sortie in UT. I remember where Schwack and I were standing.

Capt Eric “Boot” Das, F-15E, The night Boot and Salty died was the worse weather I’ve ever flown in. Total brown out to FL300. I remember this night like it was yesterday there in the CAS stack with them. I’d met Boot briefly after 9/11.

LtCol William “Salty” Watkins, F-15E. Salty was just a super nice guy. I’d spent more time with him during the opening phases of OEF. He was flying with Boot when they died on that terrible night. I remember how proud Salty was to be a Strike Eagle WSO after coming over from the US Navy.

Scott Sather, CCT, Iraq. I remember the day that Scott died. It was a terrible day. I’d never met him but felt like I knew him.

Scott Duffman, PJ, Help crash in AFG. I had briefly met Scott in one of the units I was assigned too. A great PJ.

Capt Derek Argel, STO/CCT, Capt Jeremy Fresques, CCT/STO, CCT Adam Servais, Plane Crash in Iraq. I never knew Derek, Jeremy, or Adam but their legends live on in those who knew them closely.

Major Troy “Trojan” Gilbert, F-16 Pilot. I had known Trojan before he deployed and knew well those that he was supporting when he passed away. It was an honor to get to know his family in the years that followed and to be there when he was finally brought home after so long.

SEAL Michael Koch. I did not know Mike personally but was working the mission the night he and Nate passed away. I will never forget being there when they got back to our FOB and spending the night with the medics that had extricated them both.

SEAL Nathan Hardy, Killed the same night as Mike Koc. I remember this night well. What a terrible deployment for this unit in this location.

SPC Christopher West, TF FALCON, IED. I never knew Chris personally but remember the night he passed away. It was in the middle of the surge and TF Falcon was a big part of the successes we had during that deployment.

SPC Miguel Baez, TF FALCON, IED. I never knew Miguel but just like Chris and John I carry their deaths with me.

SGT John Oslmolski, TF FALCON. I never knew John but he was a highly respected NCO.

SGT Tim Van Orman, TF FALCON. I didn’t know Tim but carry his death along with Miguel and John’s.

SEAL Luis Souffront. I remember the night Luis passed away. I never met him personally but guys said he was a rockstar.

UK Color Sgt Nick Brown, UK SF. We don’t fight alone and I remember the day that Nick passed away. The flight line was lined with two rows of warfighters as the Brits carried Nick’s casket to the waiting C-130 for his final trip home. I will never forget that sight.

MSgt Will Jefferson, CCT. I’d met Will during his spin up to deploy. While I did not know Will that well his death hit the 21 STS hard. I remember the day he passed away.

SSgt Tim Davis, CCT. I have tried to remember meeting Tim. I was told that he was at some classes I taught. Despite not remembering him in person I remember that he passed away with a one-year-old Daughter.

Maj Doug Zembiec, US Marine. I never met Doug in person but we worked in and around the same people for a long time. We have many mutual acquaintances. His death rocked the world of a lot of people and proved that no one is invincible, but boy everyone thought he was – me too. I often remember him, his leadership, and his sacrifices and his view of the world.

LtCol (Ret) Bob “Snapper” Finer, JEDI 21. I knew Snapper well and was there the night he died. I remember every detail of this night and the aftermath of this tragic and heartbreaking loss.

Col (Ret) Jim “Magic” Henderson, JEDI 21. Magic was a friend, warrior, brother and his loss still deeply haunts me. I think of him all the time and stay close with his family. He impacted so many people in so many good ways. He was kind, caring, brave, and hilarious.

LtCol (Ret) Sam “Bear” Adams, JEDI 21. “Bear” was one of the kindest people you could know. I think of him all the time and the family he left behind.

TSgt Dan Zerbe, PJ, Extortion 17. I was there when DZ went on his first deployment as a team lead. He was diligent, caring, thoughtful, and courageous. We were close and it was heartbreaking when he, John and Andy passed away.

TSgt John Brown, PJ, Extortion 17. John was a quiet man, but a great PJ. We’d met several times and I always remember him with a smile on his face.

SSgt Andy Harvell, CCT, Extortion 17. Andy was a machine. He knew one setting – full throttle. Both he and his Brother Sean were CCTs and tragically both are gone. I remember putting Andy through selection, where despite his sometimes over the edge approach, he excelled.

SrA Danny Sanchez, CCT. I briefly met Danny during his spin up. He was ready to go and was killed by a green on blue incident. Tragic.

SrA Mark Forrester, CCT. I didn’t know Mark but feel like I did. After college he enlisted so that he could be in the fight. He felt like as an American it was his duty to go.

SMSgt Chris Johnson. Chris was my 1st Sgt and he died doing something he loved. It was a big loss when he passed away and very difficult to tell his family.

SrA Evan Curbeam. Evan died in a tragic accident in Baltimore harbor. While young, there was no doubt he was going places. He had a wonderful personality and when we told him family we broke their hearts.

Captain Eric Ziegler, F-16 Fighter Pilot. I did not know “Dirk” but understood him and how many really great people loved him. He died from a G-induced loss of consciousness while getting ready to go to the Fighter Weapons School.

Captain James “Mano” Steel, F-16 Pilot, AFG. I did not know Mano but knew many who did know him. Mano died while on approach into Bagram at night in the weather.

Capt. William H. DuBois Jr. I remember the day “Pyro” died and the after effect on that unit. I’d flown out of where he died and it could get incredibly dark out there with no horizon. A tragic loss for the Nation and for the world.

LtCol Moose Fontenot, F-15 Pilot. Moose was such a good man. We had known each other for years when at 19 years he joining the Air National Guard. Moose died in his F-15 after an emergency on his way to deliver the jet to the maintenance shop.

Brad – Brad and I had worked together several times over the years. He loved aviation and life and I was shocked to hear of his passing.

Z – Z was a great guy. He had served a career as a fighter pilot then went on to continue to serve. He died doing what he loved – leading and helping people.

Nick – I don’t remember if Nick and I actually met but it seems like we did, we had so many mutual acquaintances. He died trying to save other people’s lives. His loss was devastating to so many people who loved him.

LtCol Dan “Pigpen” Swayne, F-16 Pilot training AT-208’s. Pigpen was such a good man. 4000 hours in the Viper then still serving teaching others. It broke my heart when he passed away.

Charles Keating, SEAL, OIR. I remember when Chuck Heavy passed away. I’d met him one time. He was so well known with so many incredible friends. He died doing what he loved, taking the fight to the enemy.

Josh Wheeler, USASOC, OIR. Josh was a legend. He died fighting and helping others.

Ryan Owens, SEAL. I remember the night Ryan passed away. I still think about that night a lot and how hard people fought that evening.

Kyle Milliken, SEAL. I didn’t know Millie personally but know many who did. He was loved by so many.

Capt Paul Barbour, T-38/B-52. Paul’s death hit a lot of people very hard – myself included. I remember speaking to him just days before he’d died and how at peace he was. It was clear that he was finally where he believed he was supposed to be. At least “Magic” Henderson was there to greet him in heaven.

CW3 Taylor Galvan, 160th SOAR. I remember the night Taylor died and meeting him in Baghdad. The Navy stood watch over him for hours and hours until the airplane came to take him home for the last time.

CWO Jon Farmer, Green Beret, CPO Shannon Kent, Scott Wirtz, Former SEAL, Ghadir Taher, Linguist, I met Jon, Shannon, Scott, and Ghadir in Syria over Christmas not long before they died. We were all in one big place for Christmas dinner. Their death hit every one very hard.

Col (Ret) Lou “Shooter” Campbell. I met Lou when he was a 1LT and knew him until the day he passed away. He was such a kind man and a hard worker. I regret not being closer to him at the end. My heart breaks for him and what he must have been carrying.

LTC (R) Bill Dean. Bill was one of the best officers and leaders I ever met. Kind, caring, wickedly smart, he retired as a LTC to spend more time with his family that he loved beyond words. He died in the mountains – a place he loved.

Sal. Sal was one of the kindest people you could ever meet. He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world when you spoke with him. He worked hard to be the best at what he did. It breaks my heart to think of those he leaves behind.

LtCol (R) Mike M. Mike took his own life and we may never know why. It breaks my heart that we could not do more for him.

May we never forget what Memorial Day is all about. I will raise a glass to you all this weekend with my sincere and heartfelt thanks for the impact that each of you made on my life and the lives of those that had the honor of knowing and loving you. I will also raise the same glass to your Families who continue bravely on. You’d be very proud of them.

May we as a Nation never forget our Fallen.

The Leaders Playbook: “Be Prepared”, thinking about contingencies ahead of time.

Be Prepared” The Boy Scout of America Motto

Robert Baden-Powell, Founder of the Boy Scouts of America

We choose how we respond to contingencies in life and leadership.

The COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing we have seen or handled in many years.  

These are historic and challenging times.  Much of our Nation is self-isolating and our healthcare system and economy are struggling under the weight and pressure.  

We all have a role to play, especially those leading organizations and more important households. 

This is a time for leaders, at work and at home. 

While always remaining frosty and calm, we should encourage our families, friends, and teammates to proactively think about what contingencies they might face and develop deliberate plans on how to handle them – before we have to potentially deal with them.  

A few examples we have been thinking through include: 

  • What are the symptoms of the virus?  Do I have the tools to potentially identify the virus?
  • If someone does get sick, where will I take them?  What is the phone number? Where is the nearest testing facility?
  • If someone does get sick, how will we handle quarantine?  At work? At home?
  • What supplies do we need and when can we get them?

There are many other contingencies that leaders should think about during this challenging time. The key is to sit down and think about what could happen in a calm and deliberate manner striving to “Be Prepared” for any contingency.  Trust me, thinking about contingencies ahead of them always pays off. Always.

Stay healthy my friends.

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leaders Playbook: Stoic Virtues… Courage, Justice, Temperance, Wisdom

“If at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, honesty, self-control, courage… embrace it without reservation – it must be an extraordinary thing indeed”

                                                            Marcus Aurelius Meditations 3.6

Courage, Justice, Temperance, Wisdom are timeless virtues and thinking about leadership through the lens of these virtues has been a game-changer for me.

Making difficult decisions in the face of adversity (Courage), viewing situations with an honest lens, especially oneself and one’s many failings (Justice), while remembering to see things through other people’s perspectives (Wisdom), all while remembering to do all things moderation (Temperance) are incredible tools to help you through the toughest of times. 

History tells us that Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Cato, President Lincoln, and General Marshall all embraced these virtues and lived them in their day-to-day life.  Every day I deliberately try to lead using these virtues as well.  I hope you will too.

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer.  Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leaders Playbook: Clear, concise, correct communications

“Communications: the imparting or exchanging of information or news.”

“It does not matter what you say, it only matters what people hear and see.”

                                                Frank Luntz from “Words that Work

Frank Luntz got this quote mostly right.  I have always inserted the words “and feel” to this quote.

As human beings, we rely on communications to connect with each other.  It comes in many forms but in the end, it’s about connecting at a deep enough level to engender trust and confidence in each other and to align our efforts against an issue, problem, or opportunity.  It is not a one-way flow of information.  That’s transmitting.

In my opinion, perhaps the most important skill a leader must have is the ability to clearly and effectively communicate at multiple levels.  Clear, concise, correct, and meaningful communications is something that is absolutely critical to being able to lead people successfully – and we all need to work at it. 

Sound communication is a perishable skill.  I know I will always strive to improve my verbal communications, my written communications (why I write), my non-verbal communications, and my listening skills. 

Great communicators listen well, and pass information which informs, inspires, and connects people and teams to do incredible things together.  So, commit today to do some thinking about how you are going to improve as a communicator.

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leaders Playbook: Developing winning, losing, and equal cues.

For some, air to air combat (e.g. “dogfighting”) can be a high-speed, high-stress evolution.  In flying fighters, our goal is to always keep our cool, “stay frosty” (See my previous blog post), and work the problem before us in an antiseptic, unemotional fashion in order to win every time. 

Coming off the Tanker. Copyright by Chris Lofting

As an instructor pilot, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching flight leads and mission commanders about leading in combat.  One of the early things I spend time with them thinking about is the need to develop a set of cues that will help them quickly determine if they are winning, equal, or losing against the enemy. 

These cues can come from a variety of sources including the radio, our geographical location, our altitude, how many enemy airplanes we have shot down, how many we have lost, how many weapons we have remaining, etc.  The sources of information are many. 

The key is that we are mentally thinking about these cues and the context in which we are processing this information, which allows us to quickly understand how the fight is going and make adjustments on the fly. 

I teach the same approach when I’m talking to young leaders regardless of their industry.  I stress to them that regardless of who or what you are leading, whether it’s a flight of F-16s, a Special Forces Team, or a group of Accountants or Consultants, leaders should develop a set of winning, losing, and equal cues to help them be their most effective.

What are yours?

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leaders Playbook: Decision Timing

“Do I need to make a decision on this right now?”

This seemingly simple question is one of the most important ones I ask myself and my team every day.  “When” we choose to make decisions can have as much impact on the decision itself, yet this timing is an often-overlooked element of decision making.

In reality, few decisions, other than those decisions that could impact lives, need to be made immediately. 

Our society has changed.  With the advent of mobile email, text messaging, and the 24/7 news cycle, we are constantly being bombarded with information, and along with that oftentimes comes an expectation that we will make quicker decisions in order to “keep things moving”. 

In my experience, this is not true.  Most times we need to slow down our decision-making timelines and gain as much understanding as possible of the situation before making critical decisions.  Smart evaluation of the pro’s and con’s of a decision and the second and third-order consequences is a big part of sound and accurate decision making – and timing is a critical variable. 

Timely decision making comes with experience and thoughtfulness and frankly just keeping the timing of a decision on your “radar”.  Thinking about the “when”, as well as the “why” is key.  A few considerations on when to make a decision include being able to understand the human or situational dynamics of a potential decision while looking at the level of risk associated with a decision, and who owns or shares that risk with you.  (More on this in a future piece). 

So, be deliberate and thoughtful in the timing of your decisions. 

One last note.  Delaying the timing of a decision to let the situation develop or learn more about the context is very different than refusing to make a decision or avoiding making one.  Be honest with yourself and your team about this and be clear on what you are doing as a leader.

If you want to dig into the academics of decision making, I recommend you check out the work of Dr. Jennifer Lerner up at the Harvard Kennedy School (https://www.hks.harvard.edu/faculty/jennifer-lerner). 

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leaders Playbook: The balance between risk and resourcing

For years I’ve kept a small notebook handy all the time.  The ones from my deployments are worn, stained, and full of rich incredibly insightful notes and lessons. 

I spent much of 2018 and 2019 deployed in the Middle East working with some incredible leaders engaged in the fight against ISIS and terrorism.  As I paged through my deployment notebooks this morning, I was reminded how much thinking we did on risk and resources and the tough decisions that came along with these challenges.

Some lessons I learned and re-learned during this past year:

  • Even in combat, there are restrictions on resources.
  • As leaders regardless of our role(s), we must always be very deliberate and thoughtful on what priorities we are going to resource, and equally clear on what we are not going to resource, and why.
  • Resourcing and risk are inextricably linked.  Leaders must have a laser focus on understanding the various elements of risk and how, if at all, we may control that risk level to an acceptable level. 
  • Be as clear as possible on the type and level of risk you are dealing with; risks to strategy, risks to our forces, risks to our mission, risk of inaction, etc.
  • Oftentimes there are disconnects between strategy and the essential resources that underpin them – which drives risk levels.  Seek to identify those disconnects and work to align resources but be mindful that we as leaders may not control all the dynamics at play.

Making smart, informed, and sound resourcing decisions in a risky environment is hard and gritty work.  Sometimes people’s lives, national interests, or business interests are at stake but making these difficult decisions a fundamental component of what leaders get paid to do. 

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.