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December Commander's Corner

Colonel Akshai Gandhi, 169th Fighter Wing commander

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Col. Akshai Gandhi, the 169th Fighter Wing commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, Jan. 5, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Caycee Watson)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

As 2019 comes to a close, please take stock in what we have accomplished together. From deploying Airmen across the planet, to excelling in inspections and our Mid-Point Visit from the ACC/IG, you should take great pride in what you have accomplished. On a more somber note, we cannot forget those who we have lost—as long as we remember, they continue to live among us.

The Swamp Fox Year of Individual Responsibility

As we look forward to 2020, I challenge you to make a commitment to individual responsibility. This does not mean each Airman for themselves, nor is it an attempt to reduce “customer service” types of functions. I am talking about the “personal housekeeping” which enables all the underlying things which inspired us to take the Oath of Office in the first place. I personally did not aspire to be a Swamp Fox so I could fill out a dental form, but I realize that by doing so [among other things I AM responsible for] I am able to do things in service of our Great State and Nation.

There is likely some aspect of your duties where you depend on others to get something done for you so you can do your job effectively. How often do you have to follow up with someone again and again (and again)? How great would it be if those folks just got it done so we could move on to the more important things—the things that make wearing the uniform worthwhile?

I believe most Swamp Foxes have generally accepted this challenge already, but there tend to be a few things which continually nag at us. These may be things we perceive as tedious or do not readily see as valuable. With large organizations an unfortunate reality is at times we are asked to do things which do not appear to be value added to our mission. In government service some of these mandates stem from a well-intentioned law which levy maddening requirements.

Where we can, your leadership team has cut out what is not value added. We have also tried to implement processes to streamline the tedious stuff. We don’t always get it right, so keep making suggestions to make the overall organization more effective. At the end of the day, however, there are some things that simply need to do whether we agree with or understand the value and/or importance.  We do not always get to make the rules.

When we don’t pay attention to these details, we let the entire team down. It can he hard to improve a process or get a job done if you have to spend all your time chasing down folks to do what they have already been asked to do. It is also very frustrating to hear over and over about the same stuff because somebody is not doing their part. You may also be letting down yourself if you are not “ready”—not completing skill level training or education requirements and thus missing a promotion or job opportunity.

A Swamp Fox Culture of Fitness

I have a second challenge to all our leaders (remember leadership is defined by our actions, not our position—having a job title does not make you a leader, nor do you need any particular station in life to be a leader). This second challenge is to develop and nurture a culture of fitness in your organization. A starting point would be the goal of having folks look at our Air Force Physical Fitness Test as nothing more than their annual degraded workout. The only right answer for how to do this is what works for your organization. If there is something institutional which impedes this, have a discussion about how to move forward with your team and leadership. Solutions that truly work are the ones you develop—they will be different across the base.

While these two challenges may seem daunting, please do not feel like there is an expectation that you can “flip a switch” and make a lasting change. Such thoughts are unrealistic and I think it is why so many New Years resolutions fail. Commit to these challenges knowing that you will stumble and fall. Also commit to picking yourself back up and renewing the commitment. 

A great part of what we learn comes from mistakes and failures. We learn what does not work. If we are honest with ourselves, we can also learn why it did not work. This introspection is where we grow, and the subsequent growth is what paves the way for our success. Make this approach a habit—“No human force, not even fear, is stronger than habit.”

Athletics provide a visible example of this concept. Think of a talented athlete you admire. I suspect you’ve seen them do something you know to be quite difficult, but they routinely make it look easy.  What we don’t see is the thousands of times they’ve attempted the same thing but failed. They keep at it in pursuit of getting to the point where we see their “talent.” It is quite possible that talent is really honest, dedicated, and most importantly unrelenting commitment to excellence.

I have asked you to accept two challenges, but intentionally have not told you how I expect you to do so.  You are the ones who best know your circumstances and what will be most effective among your teams and in your work centers. I also know that the best ideas come from the ground up as opposed to being top-down driven. So, go forth and conquer Swamp Foxes!

Semper Primus!