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Commentary: Soaring with the wind and stars

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Col.) Shon Neyland
  • Command Chaplain, Air Force Materiel Command
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Leadership remains the most crucial aspect of our mission as we seek to build a resilient, agile workforce centered on agility and innovation.

General characteristics of leadership include guidance, direction, and influence to accomplish the task or mission. However, even more significant in mission accomplishment is being an inspirational leader. There are no limits to what an inspired leader and team can accomplish to soar with the winds and stars.

One such inspirational leader was Jacqueline Cochran, who became the first female pilot to break the sound barrier in 1953. She was an inspiration to a generation of women and men who defended the United States during World War II and propelled us to victory.

Cochran led the historic and ground-breaking Women’s Air Force Service Pilots training program during WWII when she was appointed to the General Staff of the U.S. Army. She worked with Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold in advocating for women to fly military aircraft during the war and beyond. Cochran received the Distinguished Service Medal for her contributions to the war and became the first woman to fly a bomber across the North Atlantic.

Cochran set records in almost every category of aviation and was a key contributor to tests and studies on women becoming astronauts. There is no doubt that Cochran was a pioneer not only for women, but also for all of America. She demonstrated that with a vision and inspiration, one could change the landscape and blaze new trails.

In the same manner as Cochran, we should seek to inspire and blaze new trails in our daily activities and mission. President John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, YOU ARE A LEADER.”

Are you inspiring others to accomplish the mission, to go farther than they could ever imagine? That is the challenge for each of us in our workplace! I had the privilege of mentoring a group of 26 future AFMC leaders through the LEADership Wright-Patterson program during the past five months, and it has been a great experience.

My role was to share my experiences as a leader with the hope of giving them principles of leadership and inspiration as they go on to maximize their potential in their career fields and shape the future of our Air Force.

Inspirational leaders recognize the roles of drive, desire, and work in mission achievement. Cochran stated it best when she said, “If you will open up your power plants of vitality and energy, clean up your spark plugs of ambition and desires, and pour in the fuel of work, you will be likely to go places and do things.”

Cochran knew the mission required an emphasis on vitality, ambition, and work. Inspirational leaders possess the energy and drive to see the possible and put in the actions that will accomplish the mission.

Cochran never ran away from the fact she grew up in abject poverty with little education, yet she understood the value of hard work and drive to reach new heights. She would go on to change the landscape of American history and leave a legacy for all to follow. Her story is a message of inspiration, leadership and hope that no matter where we start in life, greater things are possible.

Being an inspirational leader is possible, but you have to believe and want it. We can start today! At the time of her death in 1980, Cochran held more records for international speed, distance and altitude than
any other pilot (male or female) in history — simply inspirational! Today her legacy lives on as she is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

I close with this inspirational thought from Cochran, “I might have been born in a hovel (shack) but I am determined to travel with the wind and the stars.”