An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Moving forward by going back to basics

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Eric Moritz
  • 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron commander
I welcome technology. Spending my disposable income on something that helps me communicate, study and play in faster, smarter and cheaper ways seems like a pretty logical choice. I don't like to throw my money away though, so I try to take care of my stuff. I keep it clean, up-to-date and I try to learn as much as I can about it in anticipation of the inevitable troubleshooting. So, on the occasions when I have to call a company's tech help line, I can get frustrated with the basic direction of Tier 1 support: "I've already rebooted three times," "Yes, I've downloaded the updates," "No, I'm not using it as an FTP server." I've been there and done that; I need something new and fresh.

Technology seems to mimic much of our American and military cultures. We're always moving forward, trying to find the next level of efficiency, save more money and generally do things better. We probably reinvent the wheel once in a while and sacrifice tradition on occasion but, for the most part, our drive tends to make us smarter, stronger and faster. In fact, it would be hard to argue that ambition isn't an absolute necessity in this business. If we don't grow and adapt, we risk failure; if we're not moving forward, we're going backwards. So maybe then, in this military culture of constant progression, we shouldn't be surprised at the difficulty in achieving some of those "Back to Basics" concepts that you've heard so much lately.

The underlying challenge may be as simple as a faulty assumption; the common denominator is missing. For those of us who have been around awhile, it's easy to remember the days when we sat around thinking about how to do things better, where we had months to draft up training plans and years to perfect our skills; when we longed to hit the road and test our mettle in battle. We started from the beginning and didn't concern ourselves much with things like risk management because the training-heavy environment wasn't very risky. If you can appreciate the technology metaphor, when we sat down at the console, we started by turning it on and then we, more or less, operated at our own pace. Yes, there were flurries of operational activity. But by today's comparison, they were short-term spikes, followed by time to rest, recover and assess our performance.

But the younger half of our community, those who joined after 9/11, have never had that benefit. When they signed the dotted line, the military machine was already fully engaged and we asked those young Airmen to hit the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom ground running, with some degree of risk at every turn. By the time they got their turn in the seat, they didn't have to worry about the power button or logging in, the computer was already running at full speed and it hasn't slowed down since. Our reference points are different -- "Back to Basics" isn't universally understood.

To overcome this challenge, we all need to re-cage our gyros, old and young alike. We need to make sure our newest generation understands there are benefits to be gained by stepping back and slowing down a bit, even when the pace seems to be quickening exponentially; that it's okay to occasionally rethink our processes and procedures from the bottom up. But we have to do more than just tell them; we have to give them the room to breathe and let them start from scratch, if need be. We also have to listen to the answers; I mean really listen. Just because we did things differently a decade ago doesn't mean that we did it better; some long-dead methods are certainly best left that way. After all, our enemies have adapted, embracing technology and progression just like us.

But, if we can successfully share the value of our experiences while providing an environment for young minds to blossom rather than simply execute, I'm confident we can develop a common baseline from which to work. The senior airman will see "Back to Basics" in the same light as the four-star general. Once the true common denominator is achieved, transition to meaningful progression won't be far behind. We just need a fresh reboot across the spectrum. Maybe Tier 1 tech support has it right this time.