Making great things happen
By Lt. Col. Kris E. Barcomb, 1st Air and Space Test Squadron
/ Published September 15, 2015
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- During his inspirational town hall session with the men and women of Vandenberg, former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Robert Gaylor said "every Airman should have a motto". His motto is the unforgettable, "people like hot French fries". Anyone who has ever received an e-mail from me knows that I sign off each one with "Now go make great things happen!" While my motto is nowhere near as catchy or captivating, I think the two share a very common foundation. Both symbolize a deep desire to seize challenges as opportunities and to turn adversity into an advantage.
As a commander of a squadron that's primary purpose is to foster Air Force innovation, I have been amazed by the capacity of our Airmen to manipulate the chess board of change and make the impossible possible. I have witnessed countless examples where teams of talented technicians, proficient program managers and enthusiastic engineers apply a seemingly limitless capacity for critical thinking to accomplish what cynics with less vision mocked as unachievable. I have experienced this form of artful problem solving not just within the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron, but across the gamut of highly-skilled professionals who work diligently throughout this base to magnificently execute our unique and nationally critical missions.
The collective capabilities of Team Vandenberg have successfully launched satellites of national importance, promoted commercial spacelift innovations, hosted critical research and development programs, landed spaceplanes, postured our nation for missile defense and visibly demonstrated our strategic nuclear deterrent capabilities.
We have accomplished these amazing feats while overcoming manpower reductions, implementing a new enlisted promotion system, protecting and preserving our environment, modernizing our infrastructure, establishing a new inspection system and managing declining budgets - just to name a few.
Some of these challenges can seem overwhelming in the face of unrelenting cost, schedule and performance pressures to get the mission accomplished. I am especially concerned about Airmen who are in their first few years of service. Their formative years of active duty have been shaped by an unprecedented demand to do more with less. The administrative burdens associated with sequestration and force shaping have the potential to instill a mindset that good ideas, innovation and growth must take a backseat to simply doing what we can to hang on to what we have. I challenge you all to resist the temptation of complacency and avoid the falsely comforting excuse of pessimism, both of which will limit your ability to think big and lead you to believe that you can't make a difference.
Despite these challenges, I can assure you of two things; first, even though we are in an era of declining resources, senior leaders are still eager to fund and implement good ideas. You may need to roll up your sleeves and sharpen your pencils a bit more for your idea to make the cut, but this only means that the best ideas will be that much better.
The second point is best highlighted by a famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill, "Gentleman, we have run out of money. Now we must think." When the current system and its established processes can no longer be supported adequately, we must craft new, innovative solutions.
A negative view of the existing environment might cause some to throw their hands up and say it can't be done. Others will seize it as a mandate to overcome bureaucratic stagnation and as an opportunity to implement the right change at the right time. I firmly believe that a healthy blend of optimism, vision, tenacity, passion and hustle is a tried and true recipe for shifting the landscape from what it is to what it should be. George Bernard Shaw once said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." If we are going to make any progress, "hot French fries" or "great things happen," we are going to have to be a bit unreasonable. We are going to have to capitalize on today's challenges as opportunities and persist in adapting our world toward a better, more innovative and capable future.