The Leader’s Playbook-2: “I trust you, you will do the right thing, no matter what… I have your back”

On September 11th, 2001 I was the Chief of Weapons and Tactics at Andrews AFB, MD assigned to the 121st Fighter Squadron flying F-16s.  My Wing Commander was Brigadier General Dave Wherley.

There are so many vivid memories from that day.  They oftentimes move through my mind like a set of polaroids.  One of the clearest memories is not of the Pentagon burning, or the fires in New York, rather it was the leadership shown by General Wherley.

After the second tower was hit, our Wing, on orders from the White House, scrambled to protect DC from further attacks.

While a group of us prepared to fly, General Wherley coordinated with the national command authority and was passed the rules of engagement that we were going to use during our missions.  They were extremely liberal and put the onus of the decision to shoot or not to shoot on us.  This was completely unprecedented.

After quickly briefing our mission and getting our equipment on, we ran to the operations desk to get our final instructions before running to the jets.  As we stood there, General Wherley gave us our mission, our instructions, and our rules of engagement.  He then paused for a moment, took a deep breath,  and looked straight at us.

To this day, I will never forget his words.

“I trust you, you will do the right thing, no matter what I have your back.”

Never in the history of mankind,  has a leader said a more right thing, to the right people, at the right time.  Period.

In the very toughest of times, it is on us as leaders to remember that it is all about taking care of the team, and boy did Boss Wherley take care of us that morning.

General Wherley was a giant of a man and a great leader.  He loved leading warriors and loved being a Fighter Pilot.

Maj Gen and Mrs. Wherley where they were happiest – together.

Tragically, on June 22nd, 2009  we lost both he and his lovely wife Ann when they were killed in the Metrorail collision in Washington, DC.  They had just left Walter Reed Army Medical Center where they were volunteering and serving our Wounded Warriors.

Our unit misses him but remembers with perfect clarity the incredible leadership example from that morning.

Thanks Boss for the incredible gift of a good example. Never forget.