Resilience and vision; a charge for senior NCOs

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sergeant Derrick M. Grames
  • 53rd Wing
After the attacks on 9-11, a time which required great resilience, former President and Commander in Chief, George W. Bush, addressed the Nation with these words: “America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America.”

When I think of resilience, I usually think specifically of personal resilience and what it takes for me and for our Airmen to bounce back in challenging times.  However, when we make the transition from being a technical expert to becoming a senior NCO, look at resilience from a different lens.  Look at resilience from an institutional perspective. 

If we look back at what our Nation has endured recently, and the families and lives that were affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, where would we be without personal and institutional resilience?  What about the cities of Port Arthur, Houston, Naples, Key West, and Jacksonville?  What have those city leaders done to prepare their communities to bounce back from such devastation?  Because they will.  Failure is not an option. 

As senior NCOs, we need to have the focus, the vision, to ensure our Nation is protected by having a properly trained and equipped force – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Year after year we’re faced with fiscal constraints, competing resources, and ever-changing demands levied upon us.  How are you going to ensure we are postured to meet those demands?  Take advantage of the highly-educated workforce which we are blessed to be associated with.  We have brilliant Airmen – this includes our civilians – and if we don’t tap into that wealth of knowledge, we’re missing out. 

We ask for innovation and creativity, but if we don’t provide the leadership to foster such culture, we will only stifle it.  We grew up in a culture which demanded compliance, therefore it’s hard to make that shift to accepting risk. But I need us to empower our people to make decisions, to be creative and innovative, understanding that part of innovation is failing. 

Allow Airmen to make mistakes and grow. Build those leaders by giving them the trust, the respect, and the power to lead.  They will ultimately build their leadership toolbox, filling it with experiences to be able to be the one that ultimately replaces us.  Give them the latitude to spread their wings and flourish, just as it was done for us.  If we crush our people for a decision that goes wrong, how do we ever expect our organization to grow and bounce back from a wrong decision, or good intentions? 

As senior NCOs, we need to ensure that our organization will be resilient.  We need to have the vision and foresight to know what challenges our unit will face and get ahead of it.  What steps have we taken to ensure the preparedness to endure turmoil, and the resolve to take a blow and come back even stronger?  Do we stay engaged with the people in our unit?  Do we have the pulse of the organization so we understand the needs of the unit, and can better posture them for success?  Do we know the goodness in our unit so we can capture it, build upon it, and share it with others?  Do we know where to course correct, if needed?  Is our unit prepared for a course correction?  Change is hard on everyone.  It affects jobs, lives, personal levels of comfort, so if we need change, we may need to foster that change.  Be the calm in the storm, allow the unit to function and perform the mission that is asked of them.

We just observed the 16-year anniversary of 9-11.  Some Airmen are serving, or have served, because of that very day.  Shortly after the attacks, then President George W. Bush assured the world that we are resilient, that we would come together to bring the fight to the enemy, “A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.  Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.  These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” 

He continued by explaining America’s course of action, describing how we were going to bounce back.

“Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks…The search is underway for those behind these evil acts…We will stand together to win the war against terrorism…This is the day all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.  America has stood down enemies before, and will do so this time.  None of us will ever forget this day, yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” 

Those words assured fellow Americans, and the rest of the world, that even though we just got punched in the mouth, we’re coming back swinging.  In spite of the tragedy and devastation we endured, there was no doubt in my mind, I knew we were going to be all right.

Do you understand the importance of organizational resilience?  Remember why we serve.  Our Nation depends on us.