Air & Space Power Journal - Español Tercer Trimestre 2005
SMSgt John P. Hearn, USAF
When people do outstanding jobs in their duty performance, they are normally rewarded with a decoration from their supervisors when they depart for a new duty assignment. In this way, the supervisor is providing a tangible expression of gratitude for dedicated performance. Normally, the higher the person's rank, the greater the responsibility associated with his or her position. As a result, the importance and prestige of the decorations they receive are based upon the impact their efforts had on mission accomplishment.
Many times, however, .the supervisors who recognize their subordinates in this way may never know how much of an impact they, the supervisors, have on their subordinates’ future. For me, the finest compliment I ever received was when one of my former subordinates- who, at the time, was an airman first class and is now a technical sergeant- told me that had it not been for me, he would now be a civilian. I did not save his life in a moment of glory; on the contrary, I had several interesting one-way conversations with him concerning his demeanor and the methods he used to communicate with others of varying ranks. After all, he was a law enforcement desk sergeant and had frequent opportunities to excel when conversing with all members of the base populace. Since we were stationed together at a remote overseas assignment in Korea, I had only a few months to interact with him before he was reassigned to the States.
Years later, he told me how much influence I really had on his life; that I had inspired him by my example. What a feeling! In reality, though, part of our job is to develop our subordinates .to be future leaders. In essence, I was successful at one of the jobs I was being paid to do. There are other times when the actions of a person have an impact on the mission of the Air Force far in excess of what his or her job description demands. Let me share an example with you.
It was a late spring morning in 1957. As the young man stood on a scale at the Air Force Academy clinic, the medical technician, an airman first class, slowly slid the black, notched block across the measuring arm. It was the first day of the candidate prescreening orientation. The technician stopped the block when the point of the measuring arm centered itself between the upper and lower stops. "One hundred and fifteen pounds, sir," said the technician as the doctor annotated the medical record checklist. The medical examiner, a major, stated, "You're not going to make it, kid. The minimum required weight for admission to the academy is 120 pounds.. You have to meet that standard when you weigh out at the end of the week." The young man was devastated at this news. His father had enlisted in the Army and served through World War II, winning a commission and, finally, retiring as a colonel. It had taken a great deal of effort to win an appointment for his son to the Air Force Academy. After all, it was the newest of the service academies, and his father had high expectations for him. How could he return home and tell his father he could not meet the standards to gain admission? The medical technician could see the despair in the young man's eyes and told him to wait outside the office: When the doctor took a break, the technician came out to talk to the candidate. "Listen to me," he said, as he looked at just one of the thousands of candidates he had processed through in the last few years. "Go over to the chow hall and see the mess sergeant. Tell him I sent you, and the problem you have; he'll take care of you."
When the young man went to the academy dining facility, he met the mess sergeant for the first time. The sergeant was overweight, in need of a shave, and less than highly articulate. After patiently listening to the young candidate's plight, he told him, "Okay kid, you just eat whatever I put on your plate." Over the course of the next week, the mess sergeant made a point of filling the candidate's plate with all manner of pasta, fats, bananas, and carbohydrates that, in today's Air Force, would cause a dietary technician to suffer a coronary due to the high cholesterol levels being consumed. The candidate stuffed himself at every meal, but, unfortunately, the high level of mental and physical activities packed into the orientation program prevented him from fully benefiting from the mess sergeant's guaranteed weight-gain program. The week was quickly drawing to a close and the stress brought on by anxiety over the possibility of failing had affected his body's ability to absorb and retain more weight. Finally, the week ended and the candidate lay in bed contemplating his future and worrying about tomorrow's out- processing physical.
Just before lunch, the candidate entered the doctor's office for his weigh-out. He had weighed himself when he got up and, happily, saw the scale reflect 120 pounds. Now, the technician once again slid the block across the rail until the pointer centered itself. "One hundred and eighteen pounds, sir," the technician stated. The doctor made his final mark in the candidate's medical record and turned his gaze upon him. "See, kid, I told you that you wouldn't make it." With that, the doctor tossed the medical record into the wastebasket. The candidate's anguish was openly apparent. "I had to do my final physical fitness exercises and the run this morning. I lost the weight doing that," he said. The technician followed him into the hall and handed him a quarter. "Go down the hall and buy a carton of chocolate milk." Puzzled, the candidate asked him, "Why do you want a carton of milk now?" The technician replied, "It's not for me; it's for you." "Don't be ridiculous, " the candidate stated, "I'm not thirsty right now." The technician stared at the candidate as a parent would when disciplining a wayward child. "Listen, mister, a carton of chocolate milk is one quart, and weighs just over two pounds." The candidate then purchased the milk and returned. The technician watched him drink it all down and then approached the doctor. "Sir, would you do me a favor and weigh that last candidate one more time?" he asked. The doctor looked at him and flatly stated, "I already marked him as a failure. He didn't make the weight." The technician persisted and again made the same request. Finally, the doctor gave in and agreed to weigh the candidate one more time. As the candidate once more stood on the scales, the technician slid the weighted block across the measuring arm until the pointer was centered. "One hundred and twenty pounds, sir," the technician announced triumphantly. The doctor gazed at the candidate and told him, "You're very lucky, young man, you just barely made it." With that, the doctor made a new mark in the records and placed the candidate's file in the basket marked ACCEPTED.
The candidate graduated twelfth in his class in 1961, and throughout his illustrious 33-year career, he went on to fly F-4 Phantom II aircraft over the triple-canopied jungles of Southeast Asia in support of the infantry soldiers far below. He re- turned to the States and served in a variety of posts in the years that followed, including choice assignments at the Pentagon. In addition to fighters, he also flew training aircraft, C-141 transports, and, later, B-52 bombers. He then served as a wing commander and was promoted to general. On one memorable inspection at a northern-tier base, while: serving as the commanding general for the Strategic Air Command's (SAC) inspector general teams, he, as was his custom, got off his aircraft and asked for a vehicle. The wing commander handed him an agenda for his visit but the general had his own agenda. Without the usual entourage, he drove along the flightline and stopped by an aircraft an airman was servicing. Stepping out of the car into the biting, freezing wind, the general asked the airman how he could service the aircraft wearing heavy arctic mittens. "It's not very easy, sir," the airman replied, "but it's so cold out here that if I touch the metal with my bare hands, my skin will freeze to it." The general then radioed his inspection team to rendezvous back at his aircraft; they would inspect some other base farther south instead. The wing commander told him he could not do that. The general smiled and said, "Colonel, it's not safe out here to work on aircraft. I'll come back at another time when weather conditions are better. Meanwhile, if you disagree with my decision, call General Davis at Headquarters SAC and tell him. "With that, the inspection team departed.
While the general was assigned to the Pentagon, an Army major was killed by members of the East German military while inspecting a site in the Warsaw Pact area. The general was tasked to write a policy directive detailing procedures for notifying Warsaw Pact forces of all future inspection requirements. These procedures also applied to Soviet bloc forces when they conducted in inspections of NATO installations. The general's policy directive was approved and signed by the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Soviet counterpart in a formal ceremony.
One of the greatest moments in the general's career was his selection to serve as the commander in chief of Strategic Air Command. He did not realize he would also be SAC's last. Commander. Furthermore, he also orchestrated the stand-up of US Strategic Command after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the inactivation of SAC, Military Airlift Command, and Tactical Air Command. While he was stationed at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, he worked tirelessly to improve the living conditions of those who lived on and off base and to improve the base fitness center. In short, he was a leader who took care of the people who took care of the mission. As you can see, his career spanned more than three decades, and the stories told here are but a few of his significant accomplishments in a very productive career. However, this is not a story just about the successes of the candidate-made-general. It is a story about the impact that a person can have and the benefits others might derive from his or her efforts.
The general would be the first to tell you that had it not been for the concern and consideration shown to him by two enlisted members back in 1957, he would never have had the opportunity nor the authority to help the enlisted force. And his successes not only benefited Air Force members; they had a positive impact on the forces of our sister services and NATO allies as well. The young medical technician and the food services sergeant may never know just how important a contribution they made to the defense of our nation. They will never receive a medal or a plaque to commemorate what they did for the Air Force. If the candidate they helped to pass his orientation physical saved only one life in Vietnam, these two enlisted members also helped save that life. If the policies and procedures the candidate eventually developed to deal with a nuclear-armed opponent prevented misunderstandings and, possibly, a nuclear incident, then they also made a contribution to a safer world. If the candidate they helped so long ago opened base housing for you or other junior enlisted members to soften the economic burden of raising a family, then those two deserve some of your gratitude also.
Although many may know that hydrogen and oxygen, when combined, form water, few may know that it takes a catalyst to join these two elements together. In this story, many people may know General George L. Butler and his accomplishments; many may know the results of his actions and how they themselves have benefited, either personally or professionally. However, very few know that none of the General's accomplishments could ever have occurred without the efforts of two young enlisted members, acting as a catalyst, who went out of their way to help someone else. The general tried unsuccessfully throughout his career to find these two caring enlisted members' so he could thank them. I hope that you also now appreciate these two and the countless others who silently make differences in our lives. What difference can YOU make? Probably more than you will ever know.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
[ Home Page de Air & Space Power International Español | Email su Opinión a]