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Career Focus: Decisions are your call

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Joseph Mulcahy
  • Career Assistance Advisor
Have you ever had an idea get stuck in your mind for days? It happened to me this month while I was attending a first sergeant seminar here.

During several of the lectures, a recurrent phrase from the instructors kept appearing: "It's your judgment." I heard this phrase during the family care, administrative action and counseling blocks. Truth be told, I was astonished at how many decisions are left to a first sergeant's best judgment.

As I pondered this a little longer, I began to see that crucial judgment calls are prevalent and required in every career field. For instance, aircraft mechanics must often use their best judgment when determining whether an aircraft is fit for flight. I used to think that technical orders, Air Force instructions and policies made our jobs simple, but it's not that easy. There's a lot of gray area and plenty of room for individual judgment calls.

Several years ago, warriors onboard a CH-47 helicopter were shot down in Afghanistan. Taliban fighters engaged them with heavy machine gun fire. Pinned down and isolated, the survivors called for air support. F-15 Eagles and F-16 Falcons responded. These aircraft pummeled the Taliban with 20 mm fire but could not dislodge them.

Bombs couldn't be dropped because the survivors were too close to the enemy. However, realizing his men's perilous situation, the leader of the American survivors asked the F-15 flight commander to drop a 500-pound bomb on the Taliban's position. Our warriors were within the bombs concussion and destruction perimeter. Faced with a tough decision to drop a bomb close to our warriors or to do nothing and let them face a barrage of enemy fire, the F-15 flight commander called his wingmen off and took full responsibility for putting the bomb on target.

In his words, "If something goes wrong, I will take responsibility." He dropped the bomb on target, killed many Taliban fighters and didn't injure our warriors. The F-15 commander's call was a risky one, but he trusted his training and knew that without assistance the survivors were easy targets.

Each day we get tasked to make judgment calls at work and home. It would be nice if we could apply textbook solutions to all of our problems, but this rarely occurs. However, we can use a logical approach each time we are faced with making judgment calls. The acronym ACT makes it easy to remember. ACT stands for assess, consider and take action.

First, assess the situation. What needs to be done? What resources do I need? Do I need permission?

Next, consider alternatives. Is this the best plan? What are the consequences if it doesn't work? What is my back up plan?

Finally, take action and evaluate the results. Did it work? What can I do better next time?

It's preferable to act only when you have fully assessed a situation and considered alternatives. This process is not so easy and may not be possible to use when adrenaline-charged situations like engaging an enemy occur. Fortunately, adrenaline-charged situations are rare in our daily lives.

In today's Air Force, we are trusted to make good judgment calls. It's important to remember that the trust of many has been placed upon us each time we perform our duties. Whether we're launching an aircraft or a new career, it's important to think things through and then act to make them happen correctly. Our great team deserves nothing less.