Past leadership traits still relevant for future

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Anton Ramage
  • 56th Civil Engineer Squadron commander
Under the authority of the National Security Act of 1947, the U.S. Air Force was born on Sept. 18, 1947, when W. Stuart Symington became our first Secretary of the Air Force.

Contemplating our 60th Anniversary theme, "Heritage to Horizons... Commemorating 60 Years of Air and Space Power," we can see similarities between the challenges our early leaders overcame and the challenges we face today.

On V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945, the U.S. Army Air Forces boasted 2,253,000 military personnel; by May 1947, only 303,600 were left. The ranks were decimated as many experienced Airmen went home from World War II. The remaining USAAF military and civilian personnel were transferred to our new department between September 1947 and July 1949.

Our leaders had the monumental task of ensuring our forces were well organized, trained and equipped. Services such as medical and police, along with commissaries, laundry and the like, which had previously been shared with the Army, had to be organized. A promotion system had to be drawn up for military personnel. Unfortunately, at the same time, demobilization was continuing and budgets were shrinking.

In spite of this, the new Air Force still had to be prepared to fight. World War II had tested theories and developed new technologies, which now had to be organized and developed. The potential uses of conventional and nuclear bombing, jets, supersonic flight, giant bombers, mid-air refueling, rockets, missiles, the flying wing and nuclear bombs had to be developed, tested and understood, all while the Soviet Union loomed as a powerful enemy.

Sixty years later, leaders face similar challenges. Issues including PBD 720 manpower reductions, standup of new organizations and transformation of existing units, severely constrained budgets, new enlisted evaluation forms, new technologies, high ops and deployment tempo concerns are all happening at the same time. These issues are important, but they also have the potential to distract leaders from the top priority -- leading Airmen.

We can meet these challenges and execute our mission by following the same leadership principles exercised at the birth of our service: personal courage, character, integrity, selfsacrifice, adherence and enforcement of standards, delegation and dependability. However a leader's effectiveness is not just what principles they exercised, it's how they were exercised.

Very little leadership happens while sitting behind our desks trying to manage e-mail, yet that seems to be what captures a lot of our time. Leadership happens when we're out with our Airmen, on the job site and in their work areas. In honesty, this is the area where many of us are most deficient and one we must work the hardest to correct.

Direct and frequent contact with the troops played a tremendous role in Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's decision making. He stated "...regardless of preoccupation with multitudinous problems of great import, he (a commander) must never lose touch with the feel of his troops. He can and should delegate tactical responsibility and avoid interference in the authority of his selected subordinates, but he must maintain the closest kind of factual and spiritual contact with them or, in a vast critical campaign, he will fail. This contact requires frequent visits to the troops themselves."