Learn from heritage to broaden our horizons

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Daryl Page
  • 55th Wing Chief of Safety
Last year during our Air Force's 60th anniversary celebrations, we adopted a slogan titled "Heritage to Horizons." Although to some it was just a clichéd advertising campaign, to me and many other Airmen it was a call to action. 

In the history of our great Air Force, we have had many heroes. Some were leaders such as Gen. Hap Arnold and Gen. Carl Spaatz while others were trailblazers like Gen. Chappie James. Each of these Airmen was vital in the growth and development of our Air Force and their efforts resonated throughout our nation and the world. Their inspiration and our challenges are interlinked and I would like to offer how we tie their heritage into our horizons.

Let me begin with General Arnold who was the first chief of the Army Air Corps and only general of the Air Force, thus far. Hap Arnold's horizons were developed at the knee of the Wright brothers and Billy Mitchell. He was the second rated pilot in the Air Force trained by the Wright brothers. Despite an early fear of flying, General Arnold became one of the most ardent supporters of more airpower even though it was not the popular or politically correct thing to do. He, like Billy Mitchell, risked his career to champion what he knew was best for our nation, despite personal risks. 

Today, we too are challenged to do the right thing for our nation first, Air Force second and ourselves last. If you see something that can be improved or corrected, it is your duty to be part of the solution rather than part of the status quo.

Another model leader in the Air Corps was General Carl Spaatz. General Spaatz was the driving force to revolutionize tactics during World War II. He was the master mind behind daylight precision bombing. His vision was vital in changing the momentum during WWII. The daylight bombing was more accurate and thus resulted in less sorties having to be flown and ultimately culminating in our success in the war effort against the Axis Powers. Many were opposed to such a daring plan, but he stood tall in his advocacy. 

Sometimes for us, a new idea or process can be seen as too aggressive or too difficult to implement. However, we must sell its worth to our subordinates and supervisors alike. Just to say, "trust me you will see," is not a valid reason. We, as leaders, must sell the vision by helping others to see an idea's importance and future worth.

Often the word "trailblazer" is flippantly used in performance reports or awards packages, yet sometimes it is truly warranted. One such valid use of the word is the story of General Chappie James. Most Airmen know that General James was the first African-American four-star general. Some might have even heard of his time as the vice commander for Col. Robin Olds during the Vietnam War. He graduated from the Tuskegee Institute at a time when African-Americans were still segregated and the thought of a black man as a pilot was controversial and unaccepted in the minds of some. Although many of his peers chose to protest their treatment aggressively and sometimes with insubordination, Chappie James chose to prove his worth as an aviator and leader through his actions. Chappie James is famous for some of the most rousing patriotic speeches ever heard which were delivered during a tumultuous time. Our nation was embroiled in an unpopular war and split apart by racial divisions. Chappie James called for all Americans to come together for the greater good and work more as Americans and less as individual entities. I challenge each of you to read more about this dynamic trailblazing leader. We can take a lesson from him on Air Force tribalism. We all have jobs that are ultimately important to the overall mission, without one of them, none of us will succeed. 

Next time a young pilot is talking with a personellist, remember that you both are on the same team and working for the success of the nation and neither is more important than the other. 

Hopefully, I have reminded you of a few great leaders in our Air Force's history who sacrificed personal gain for the good of our great nation and Air Force. Now, as you look off into the horizons of our Air Force, I challenge each of you to study the heritage of those pioneers who gave us the opportunity to excel and serve. Next time you are on a deployment or vacation and you aren't working on career development courses, college degrees, or personal military education, pick up a biography of a great Air Force Leader or read a historical account of an important battle. You will find that you will expand your horizons through heritage.