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November Commander's Corner

U.S. Air Force Col. Boris Armstrong,169th Fighter Wing vice commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, poses for his portrait, Aug. 9. 2013. (U.S. Air National guard Photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Boris Armstrong,169th Fighter Wing vice commander at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, poses for his portrait, Aug. 9. 2013. (U.S. Air National guard Photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, South Carolina -- In our line of work, and I suppose life in general, emotion is like stress. The right amount can improve our performance while too much can be a detriment. Most of us feel an emotional attachment to the Swamp Fox; we consider the reputation and legacy ours to protect which is a key to our success. Too much emotion however can be quite damaging.

Several years ago an Air National Guard F-16 squadron suffered a preventable mid-air collision due to flight discipline issues. The underlying cause was a highly volatile, hateful relationship that developed between the two mishap pilots. Leadership was aware of the situation but still allowed them to fly together. During the night mishap sortie, the pilots violated training rules by trying to "thump" one another with very close supersonic passes which eventually resulted in the mid-air. While both pilots survived, one aircraft was lost and the other damaged. The organization's reputation was devastated and took many years to recover. Clearly the pilots lost their ability to deal with their differences in a detached, unemotional way.

For a different perspective, ask a police officer what is arguably the most dangerous situation for them to respond to and the answer will probably be "domestic disputes." These situations are likely to be emotionally charged and those involved often act or react without reason or restraint.

As military members, we are trained to solve problems; to study and know the threat, while practicing and preparing our response. We should take the same approach to one of the biggest internal threats to all of our organizations. The first step is awareness and at the top of the list of usual suspects are relationships. Emotional relationships are naturally found between blood and marriage relatives, romantic relations and close friendships among others.

With varying success, McEntire has dealt with all of these issues over the years. So it is not a bad idea to look at some of the past situations to see how they might be handled better today.

To be clear, I am not opposed to relatives working together at McEntire. On the contrary, I think it is a great advantage for recruiting and genuine benefit to our fighter wing (names like Shelley, DeLille, Tanner, Amos, Burton, Narduzzi, Shepherd, and Revels among others have and will continue to serve with distinction)... as long as we closely monitor chain-of-command issues. Romantic relationships should be carefully watched for the same reasons. It is easy to ignore a potential problem area when things are going well but what appears as a harmonious situation today can degrade with little warning; family squabbles, divorce, relationship breakups, etc. This is where an ounce of prevention could prove most valuable.

Bias for or against a coworker is the primary byproduct of emotional relationships we need to avoid. I like the F-16 pilot example above because it demonstrates how unexpectedly things can turn bad when coworkers begin to act and react emotionally. "Love" and/or "hate" among our Airmen often results in bias which is most unacceptable in a profession of arms. If it happens to be in the same chain of command, the organization will suffer. If you spot emotional relationships or a volatile situation developing in your chain of command, it is your duty to address it, separate, minimize or eliminate it. Human nature is not likely to change and the next challenge is just around the corner.

We owe it to the legend of the Swamp Fox to care for our people through established programs, and the institution with sound leadership. With regard to this topic, the health and resiliency of the organization always has priority over individual desires.

Finally, congratulations to all of you for closing out a stellar FY13 and maintaining your reputation as the best fighter wing on the planet! I wish you a safe, happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas.

Semper Primus
-Robo-