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Mission first - people always

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Shawn Dawley
  • 737the Expeditionary Airlift Squadron
Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1, Leadership and Force Development, informs us that a leader is considered proficient in "People/Team Competencies" if his or her approach is to place "people first--(attending) to the physical, mental, ethical, and spiritual well-being of fellow Airmen and their families".

Karl von Clausewitz, an early 19th century Prussian officer differed in his assessment on the primacy of the individual. Instead, he stated in his seminal work, 'On War', that "the end for which a soldier is recruited, clothed, armed, and trained, the whole object of his sleeping, eating, drinking, and marching is simply that he should fight at the right place and the right time".

He was right. As leaders, when we place people first we are wrong. We must concern ourselves with people always, but the mission must always come first.

I take at face value that those members entrusted to my care were sincere when they swore an oath upon their commissioning or enlistment to defend our way of life. Therefore, my primary responsibility as a commander is to honor their commitment, executing faithfully and to my utmost the mission charged to my unit. When I elevate the wants and needs of an individual above the supremacy of mission accomplishment, I am no longer a leader. I am a social worker.

As a commander, my primary job is not to further a captain's pursuit of a graduate he has a marketable skill upon separating from service. My primary job is not to secure a training billet for an NCO... so she and her spouse can stay in a taxpayer-funded lodging in Hickam. Neither of these pursuits is inherently wrong, but motive is everything.

When Airmen seek to advance their seemingly individual needs, but in the direct or indirect interest of mission accomplishment, they are noble. When they advance their agenda for selfish desires, they are no longer needed. They are no longer wanted.

Leaders need not shy away from this reality. If you have an Airman who thinks he simply has a "j-o-b", then help him change his mind or help him find the door. Educate your Airmen about our calling, and about its importance. Make mission accomplishment a reward in and of itself, creating a culture of discipline, accountability, and ownership. The deadly stakes of the profession of arms requires more compensation than just a paycheck. Tell that story. Tell that story because in their darkest hours your troops will not be sustained by GI Bill benefits and the upgraded rental cars you procured for their temporary duty. The mission is supreme.

A good commander will always attend to the care of the Airmen. As often and as thoroughly as possible a commander must take a personal stake in their professional development, their families, and their morale. A strong commander will work diligently to develop the esprit de corps of his unit. He will not do this to be liked or because he is sweet. He will do this because his people will ultimately do what is truly most important. They will accomplish the mission. And they will be proud.