MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” ― Ronald Reagan
As I look back on what will end up being a 36-year career, I can’t help but think about President Ronald Reagan. He was president when I enlisted in 1986. He is one of seven presidents in total I have served under and has always had my respect for his leadership perspective. I joined in a time that saw Russia and China as the greatest threats to American freedom. Sadly, we have come full circle in my career. We took an extended detour fighting terrorism around the world only to return to present day where Russia and China are once again the greatest threats to American freedom. Guess what? They always were and while we were distracted taking care of business elsewhere they were continuing to strengthen their ability to impact world affairs.
It is human nature to look back and wonder if it was all worth it. Was spending 36 years in uniform worth it? If you look at it through the lens above and the full circle nature of those years I would say no. We are where we were. However, I cannot use that lens. The lens I have to use is while the world was doing what it did, did I limit its impact on Airmen? Did I help them to see that regardless of what was going on externally they had a job to do and their State and Nation were depending on them doing it? I would say yes!
When I officially became the 169th Fighter Wing Command Chief in October, 2019 no one knew we were less than six months away from some of the biggest leadership challenges our Air National Guard has ever faced. In the months to follow, we faced civil unrest around the nation and shutdowns for COVID-19 causing child care and employment issues for Airmen across the country. I am exceptionally proud of how the 169FW leadership team handled these challenges.
Specifically, I am proud of then Col. Akshai Gandhi and myself not backing away from the tough questions or the tough decisions. We immediately got out and about with the Airmen. We scheduled town hall meetings and welcomed open honest discussion on the issues facing our country. And we learned from the perspective of others. All of this based on the simple concept of our diversity making us stronger and our Swamp Fox patch making us family. Side note: one of the strangest activities of my time as command chief was ensuring Airmen had an ample supply of toilet paper!
I am proud of how Col. Quaid Quadri has continued to lead us through the COVID-19 situation he inherited. You can tell more about a person by how they treat people with whom they disagree than how they treat those who are in lock step. We have encouraged dialogue on COVID-19 vaccinations and only when actions were driven down from national level leadership, have we taken those actions. We have treated those who have decided against the vaccination with dignity and have respected their service to state and nation.
Was it worth it? I think it was definitely worth it. I have not always been perfect in my execution but I have always tried to give my best and do the right things. Hopefully, I have had a positive impact on you and your career. I know each of you have had a significant impact on mine!