Leaders operating in dynamic security environment

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Today we find ourselves operating in a dynamic, expeditionary and austere security environment. More than ever before, today’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are asked to act in ways that can and will irrevocably impact the global community. Strong, bold, responsible leadership at all levels is vital to mission success.

As America’s Airmen, we deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests. We fly and we fight in air, space and cyberspace. Just think about that for a moment. Right there in our mission statement we address the global impact of what our Airmen bring to the table. It’s an awesome leadership responsibility that we have to the nation.

“Leadership isn’t rank, position, privilege, title or money; it is responsibility,” Gen. Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, once said. The title “leader” must be earned through a demonstrated commitment to excellence and responsibility. Leaders must take full responsibility for their actions and the actions of their people. They must make tough, uncompromising decisions. In today’s combined, joint, expeditionary environment, lives can be lost if leadership falters.

As our world continues to change and our military continues to transform, America’s Airmen find themselves at the center of the joint warfighting team. Operation Enduring Freedom is a great example. A U. S.-led, international effort freed the Afghan people from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda regimes. Along with the help of some 80 coalition allies, we have successfully introduced the concepts of freedom, liberty and democracy to our new allies. Operation Enduring Freedom efforts helped build schools, hospitals, bridges and water wells and to complete agriculture and irrigation projects. Women in Afghanistan now vote and attend school, children are vaccinated, and there are training and employment programs. While life in Afghanistan is not perfect, the Taliban’s and Al-Qaeda forces’ ability to operate freely is disrupted, and the Afghani citizens have hope for a brighter future.

Similarly, Operation Iraqi Freedom Airmen were instrumental in removing Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime, and today we are intimately involved with transitioning Iraq to a self-reliant, autonomous government. Airmen-leaders are littered throughout the Iraqi theater of operation. We’re at expeditionary air bases, Army posts and forward-operating bases; we work as part of the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, the Multinational Corps Iraq, and at embassies. Others find themselves working as part of an Army-led Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, working and leading directorates in Balad, Iraq, such as the J-1 personnel office, J-8 comptroller office, engineering office, J-2 intelligence office and J-6 communications office. We work side by side with civilians, local nationals and sister service components, each of us bringing our talent and leadership to bear on the successful execution of the mission.

The fact is, everyone is a leader; each of us bears responsibility for mission success or failure from Airmen to general. We each have a vested interest in the outcome. Our wingmen, our families, our Air Force and our nation are counting on us to do the right thing and do things right, even when no one is watching. Our Air Force core values — integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do — are not a bumper sticker. They’re our way of life.

We are a nation at war, and, as expeditionary Airmen, we must be prepared to operate and lead in combat, as well as peacetime environments.

During my current deployment to Iraq, I’ve combat patrolled more than 1,500 miles and been a part of multiple special operations convoys throughout the Iraqi theater. At which time, I was under the convoy leadership of a senior noncommissioned officer. I trusted that Army SNCO with my life. He was the experienced, combat leader who briefed and led our convoy operations — no questions asked. In my capacity as the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force J8 comptroller, I’ve been responsible for sending my noncommissioned officers to various parts of Iraq to support the special forces mission. Not something your typical financial managers get to do, yet here we are. We have new missions, new challenges and new opportunities to lead as a result of a changed security environment. This uniqueness isn’t limited to the comptroller career field. In other Air Force specialty codes, young military professionals are charged to teach security forces procedures — weapons and perimeter defense — to Iraqis and are involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, such as the Tsunami relief efforts, Hurricane Katrina and transporting Nigerian troops to help stabilize the civil war stricken, Darfur, Sudan region, in Africa.

As we provide worldwide vigilance through conventional and unconventional warfare, humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace enforcing operations, we have to be cognizant that the world is watching what we do and how we do it.

We each must institutionalize our Air Force core values and apply them throughout the entire security environment in how we act and interact with the joint force. There isn’t one set of rules for in garrison leadership and another set for deployed leadership. Regardless of the environment, successful leaders embrace Air Force core values. They take the time to get to know their people and what motivates them; they invest most of their time to development and training, empowering their troops to succeed by giving them the tools to do so.

Successful leaders ensure every team member has an equal opportunity to succeed. They must be honest in the assessment of each troop’s capability and reward accordingly. They understand that responsible leadership is not a popularity contest and rewarding poor performers for the sake of keeping everyone happy isn’t true leadership. It doesn’t serve as an incentive to those who are truly working hard, and, in the end, it lowers performance expectations and eats at the morale and effectiveness of your unit and the U. S. Air Force, and that is something we can ill afford.

To successfully combat emerging threats and win the global war on terror, it is more important than ever that we remember great plans don’t succeed without great people to implement them. Some of America’s best and brightest young professionals have chosen to serve the nation, and they are looking for challenges and leadership opportunities. Combat capability begins and ends with our Airmen leaders. We owe them strong, responsible, unwavering leadership and should expect nothing less from them.