Finding yourself in a resource-constrained environment

  • Published
  • By Col. Gerald V. Goodfellow
  • 7th Operations Group commander
Former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Curtis LeMay, while serving as the 3rd Air Division commander out of England, was ordered to team with the 1st Air Division, led by Gen. Robert Williams, to conduct surprise bombings of targets in Germany during a time when the Germans maintained air superiority over their territory.

The plan called for the two divisions to fly approximately 300 B-17 bombers in formation as if they were headed to the same target area, and at a pre-planned point, separate and bomb two different target areas -- Williams bombing targets in Schweinfurt, Germany, and LeMay bombing targets in Regensburg, Germany.

General Williams was to head back to England after bombing his targets, but LeMay's division would not have the fuel to return; they were to land at an Allied-held base in North Africa, where there would be aircraft mechanics, bombs and fuel waiting.

LeMay was to reload and refuel his bombers and fly another mission to destroy targets in a German-held territory in France on his way back to England -- a mission designed to take Germany by surprise again.

On the morning of the mission, the two divisions encountered many problems starting with intense fog on the ground. General Williams delayed his takeoff due to fog, but LeMay ordered his ground crews to line the runway holding flashlights so his crews could take off.

LeMay eventually got most of his 150 bombers in the air and above the fog. Once in the air, he realized that not only had General Williams' 1st Air Division not departed on time, but none of the pre-planned fighter escort had managed to get off the ground either.

LeMay, who was leading the mission, sought approval to proceed with the mission anyway and permission was granted. LeMay headed into the heart of heavily-defended Germany alone and unafraid.

A man who never showed any sign of fear, LeMay went on to hit his targets, but in the process, lost 24 of his bombers during the attack. Some 250 of his aircrew were shot down, many were killed and many more were captured and became prisoners of war.

When LeMay's aircraft landed in North Africa, most were severely damaged, and the Allied support he expected was no longer there. From the time the bombing plan was developed to the time it was executed, the Allies experienced greater success than planned and had already moved, taking most of the supplies with them.

I guess this is where you could say LeMay found himself in a severely resource-constrained environment.

At this point, LeMay got busy leading. Pilots, navigators and gunners, under LeMay's supervision, became aircraft mechanics. They took parts from airplanes too damaged to make the return flight to England and repaired all the airplanes they could. LeMay had bombs trucked in from bases in the area for his aircrews to load.

One week after landing in North Africa, LeMay, with the vast majority of his airplanes, took off for England, bombing German-held targets in France enroute.

I've often pondered this story, especially when I find myself in a resource-constrained environment. An environment like we find ourselves in today.

I hear complaints of underfunding, not having enough qualified Airmen to work on the jets, not enough spare parts or aircrew members not getting to fly enough to keep themselves as combat mission ready as the Air Force requires.

When I hear these stories I wonder, "What would LeMay do if he were in charge?"

As a group commander who is part of the leadership team at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, I believe I have a duty to identify problems and make the best use of all the resources at my disposal to solve those problems.

At Dyess, we've instituted several initiatives in recent months meant to make better use of our resources. For instance, putting a senior pilot or weapons systems officer leader in the same truck as the lead maintenance supervisor during preflight and launch times to increase maintenance and operations group communication. Also, by identifying spare time in the simulator if an aircrew does cancel for a maintenance related issue, they can go to the simulator and fly the planned mission.

We are also taking a hard look at how we might better use our available training resources, such as flyable jets, simulators and instructor ground training to ensure aircrews are combat mission ready to fly even the toughest missions.

LeMay knew leading in a resource-constrained environment was difficult, but he managed to do it. However, I do not think he did all the leading or all the thinking on his own.

Organizations flourish and grow when everybody is empowered to think. Leaders need to empower their people to think about how to do things more efficiently and effectively and even take risks -- at least calculated risks.

The 7th Maintenance Group deputy commander told me recently the definition of crazy is doing the same thing, day-after-day, expecting different results. He is absolutely right. The challenge is thinking how to change a crazy situation once you realize you are in it.

We are part of a service that prides itself on the quality of our Airmen and their ability to think. Airmen have proven the ability to rise to any challenge.

Airmen will find most of their commanders thinking about how to most effectively utilize limited resources to achieve the mission. However, we will only reach our full potential when all of us embrace the opportunity to find solutions in today's resource-constrained environment -- like LeMay did throughout his bombing mission.