‘The butterfly effect’

  • Published
  • By Maj. Hank McKibban
  • 309th Fighter Squadron

Shortly after taking command, the Wild Duck Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge requested I explain to his Airmen exactly what the pilots would be doing on training missions during an upcoming temporary duty. I was embarrassed that he had to ask. In this specific case, I had thoughtlessly kept these details from our closest partners. I had overlooked the pride that comes from recognizing when one's hard work results in something significant happening.

Since then I've wondered how often we all incorrectly focus exclusively on "our lane" or on what we do in the Air Force instead of what we do for the Air Force. Yes, job satisfaction and lifestyle are necessary elements in sticking with any career, military or otherwise, but in my opinion "service before self" means we should value what we give to the Air Force more than what the Air Force gives to us. It's understandable that our focus tends to shift toward the latter if we don't fully understand the effects of our contributions.

In July, the 309th Fighter Squadron graduated 10 officers from the F-16 Basic Course. Those officers had just completed nine months of training, including 100 hours of F-16 flight time, 236 hours of academics, and 42 simulator missions. While it did require intense personal commitment on their part, let's face it, they got that from the Air Force. "You" made sure they did. In this specific case your "service" resulted in an investment in our Air Force's future. It may not be apparent if you don't interact with them daily. The Mad Mallard instructors and Squadron Avia  

tion Resource Management did, meticulously preparing those 10 officers for their daily training. But, class 14-ABC also relied on the wing's contract schedulers and the solid academic instruction from the men and women of the 56th Training Squadron. They depended on the tireless work of the Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen, the flight records managers and the air traffic controllers of the 56th Operations Support Squadron.  

That only covers the 56th OG, barely scratching the surface. Arguably the most critical component of our operations is the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. These ten students (and my instructors) are pedestrians without the Mad Mallard AMU OIC and his NCOs. And the production superintendents, not forgetting the crew chiefs, expediters and specialists, all of whom rely on additional specialists and those who turn wrenches in the back shops.  

All the folks I've listed and their families were medically cared for, fed, housed, paid and educated. They worked in modern facilities, maintained by the 56th Contracting Squadron and 56th Civil Engineer Squadron, and protected by defenders. These Airmen were all free to focus on the mental and physical demands of their difficult duties because others expertly focused on their own. I could go on and on, but you've likely gotten the point by now.  

You may have just been doing your job to the best of your ability with little thought to what kind of impact you were making, but what may seem like a little thing usually turns out to matter immensely. Chaos theorists describe this as "The Butterfly Effect." The idea is that the aggregate of seemingly insignificant contributions combine to produce significant results that can't be forecasted or anticipated.  

From time to time, it is important to take a peek outside your lane, and remind yourself that every interaction plays a role in the bigger picture. Yes, without their personal commitment, the men of class 14-ABC would not have completed the course; however, this achievement is not theirs alone. "You" made their graduation happen. You gave this nation future commanders and perhaps a future general officer. You may have done so without thinking about it, but realize that you did, and on their behalf I thank you for your service.