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Attitude: where are you in relation to the horizon

  • Published
  • By Capt. David J. Oettel
  • 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron
We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it.  -Charles R. Swindoll

In aviation, attitude is a very important term. It describes the orientation of an aircraft in relation to the horizon. A pilot may change the relative orientation of the plane or helicopter, but cannot change the absolute orientation of the horizon.

As a flight surgeon, I have accumulated enough flying hours to experience this in flight. I have also had the occasional flight in inclement weather, when the horizon is not readily observable. It is during those times that aircrew must trust secondary visual references and cockpit instruments to determine their exact orientation. My experiences outside of the flying environment have held very similar tendencies.

As a developing leader in the Air Force, I characterize myself as many young officers would: dedicated, ambitious and idealistic. These qualities have served to benefit me on many occasions. However, when confronted with situations outside of my sphere of influence, these traits have the potential to become a problem if not held in check. I am regularly confronted with circumstances, both big and small, that are outside of my control. These immoveable horizons can be resisted, but not altered.

The youthful idealism in me wants to avoid traveling in a direction that I don't desire to go. At times, I have sought briefly for my own, alternative, horizon. In my experience, resistance has merely brought personal frustration and fatigue. Aligning with a horizon of improper heading serves to make the journey more miserable and may lead to exhaustion. More significantly, it will put one off course.

Sometimes the flight path has not been readily observable and was clouded or otherwise obscured. During these times, I have been fortunate to have good mentors to act as those visual references pointing me in the right direction. My internal compass, the knowledge of right and wrong, has also served as a guide. With a combination of time, mentorship, and improved skill at reading the gauges, I have been able to properly orient my attitude and direction more often.

In short, I have seen and learned that attitude is an absolutely essential component of leadership, officership, followership and airmanship. A good attitude is at the core of integrity, service and true excellence. In other words, it is at the core of the Core Values. In life, as in aviation, we cannot often change what is on the horizon. However, we can change our attitude in relation to it.