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Commentary Search

August Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Col. Akshai Gandhi
  • 169th Fighter Wing

It is extremely humbling to find myself as the new commander of the 169th Fighter Wing. I continue to stand in awe at just how much our Swamp Fox Airmen and their families contribute to the safety and security of our great state and nation. Right now, we have the aviation package back in Southwest Asia executing combat operations and we just welcomed home our 169th Security Forces Squadron Defenders who have been in the thick of a challenging mission for the last six months. At the same time, we continue to stand watch with our 24/7/365 Aerospace Control Alert mission and we are in the planning stages for our next round of Agile Combat Support tasking. All the while, we stand ready to respond domestically should we face the challenges of the fourth year of devastating hurricanes in South Carolina.

While I have had the pleasure of serving with many of you as a Swamp Fox for the last 17 years, I thought it might be helpful for you to know a little bit about my background. When I was six, my family emigrated from the United Kingdom. My parents started over so my brother and I could benefit from the opportunities only available in America. I grew up in California and entered the Air Force Academy after High School. After 11 years and change on active duty, I was given the honor of becoming a Swamp Fox. 

I know first-hand the ‘American Dream’ is alive and well—only in the United States do you have the opportunity to realize your dreams. Do not, however, expect realizing your aspirations to be easy or fair—do expect it will take time, you will make sacrifices, and you will work your tail off for it! Passion, perseverance, a laser-beam focus, and of course A LOT of work.  When (not if) you get “knocked down,” you will need to pick yourself up. As you square up against the challenge you find your true character—use these experiences as opportunities to grow. 

I see everything which is great in America at McEntire and among the Swamp Foxes. As you all chase your American Dreams, help your fellow Airmen do the same as we achieve much more together. Bring those beside and under you along as you pursue your goals and aspirations. This is how we grow our next generation of leaders and how we prepare ourselves to face the next challenges which will be placed before us—both individually and as an organization.

Now that you know a little about where I come from and how I think, let me shift to my command philosophy. Simply put the over-arching theme is “mission first, people always.”  At the end of the day, the Swamp Foxes exist because there is a job to be done. Resultantly, we must first look to the mission at hand—remember our state and nation depend upon us. Our mission, however, cannot be accomplished without our Airmen (yes, it is ALWAYS capitalized), and it falls to our leaders at all levels to ensure the needs of our Airmen and their families are addressed. We cannot most effectively accomplish our mission if our Airmen are distracted because we are not sufficiently taking care of them.

We will never have the resources (money, people, time, etc.) that we think we need. This reality, however, does not justify not trying or provide an excuse for not succeeding. While there are some shortfalls which may truly limit what we can do, we must also realize that more people, money, or time are not guarantors of success. We succeed when we critically think about a problem, work together with the affected parties, and take smart, deliberate, and considered risks. Such approaches do not guarantee success, but they can certainly make success far more likely. The words of Sir Winston Churchill sum it up best: “we have run out of money; now we have to think.”

I firmly believe that given the chance, everyone is trying to do their best to do the right thing. Because we all come from different walks of life with different experiences, we will likely come up with different ways of approaching the challenges we face. While this friction is often frustrating, it should actually be embraced because it makes us look at a problem from unfamiliar points of view. The key is to try to understand the other point of view—there is no requirement to agree with it—and where there is understanding, there can be progress. With a shared understanding, we are much more likely to find the best available solution for the problem at hand. In fact, I find the dissenting opinion is one of the most valuable things to me as a leader. If everyone agrees, then I become quite concerned that there is some aspect we have not sufficiently considered and it is usually those aspects which bite us in the hindquarters.

By the way, we are not always going to get it right—we will make mistakes. The key is to continually assess what we are doing to see if we are headed in the right direction. We have to be willing and able to recognize AND admit we have made a mistake. Only then can we adapt and make the necessary course corrections. While nobody really sets out to make a mistake, it is only a failure when we choose not to learn from it. In fact, if everything we do is always a success, then we may not be pushing ourselves hard enough. One step backward to take two forward is progress. 

The future is always uncertain. We usually do a pretty good job preparing to deal with yesterday’s problems, however, tomorrow’s challenges will most certainly be different. Peeling back the onion on what has not gone well in the past (or how to do something that we did well, better) is not time wasted. It enables us to learn about our strengths and weaknesses. This awareness will be essential in overcoming the unknown challenges we will face tomorrow. The people and organizations who know themselves the best will be the ones best equipped to adapt to the new and different challenges. Those who adapt first are the ones most likely to be victorious. 

Hopefully, you find what I’ve talked about relatively straightforward, perhaps even simple. It is, however, not easy. I have found that focusing only on the easy things does not really get you anywhere, nor does it provide any real fulfillment. While the hard things can be daunting, remember “an elephant is eaten one bite at a time.” Look back to your proudest accomplishments—I doubt any of those were easily achieved. I look forward to tackling the hard things and I could not ask for a better group to do this with.

-Semper Primus