The key to success is to take it personal

  • Published
  • By Col. Russ Handy
  • 33d Fighter Wing Commander
So, there's an Operational Readiness Inspection coming. You've heard many tidbits of advice recently on keys to success, so allow me to add one more: TAKE IT PERSONALLY. We have trained, practiced and evaluated you -- a lot. Now it's up to you.

At the risk of showing my age, taking exercises/evaluations like this personally really began to strike a chord for me in 1990. On Aug. 7, 1990, 23 of my closest friends and I landed in eastern Saudi Arabia, fully expecting to be overrun by thousands of advancing Iraqi troops.

I broke the seal on my first real-world chemical defense ensemble that day while sitting in a briefing room in a Royal Saudi Air Force fighter squadron building. At that moment, I assure you I was tearing into my memory banks for the lesson(s) I learned in the Operational Readiness Exercises I participated in the year(s) prior. I really inspected my mask; I checked and double checked the fit; I made sure the booties were snug -- it was PERSONAL!

After nearly six months of deterrence and preparation, we kicked off Operation Desert Storm and as you all know, made those who questioned our capability and determination pay dearly.

Since we were unfortunate enough to be at a location frequently targeted by Scud missiles, the term Ability to Survive and Operate took on a particularly clear meaning to me. If I wasn't sleeping with my Chemical Warfare Defense Equipment mask on ... which most of us did initially ... it laid very close.

When the wing commander ordered everyone to remain hunkered down following a Scud impact while the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical recon teams (God love them) checked the area for contamination, you listened. All of those "processes" my commanders had hammered into my brain as a young fighter pilot during OREs suddenly made a whole lot of sense.

One day, a Patriot missile broke a Scud into several large pieces directly above our ramp. A few of those pieces impacted just outside the doors of a "hardened" shelter where I sat alert in an F-15C and most of our command and control and support infrastructure resided.

As the shelter reverberated from the impact and pieces of the interior walls crumbled down upon us, I realized we would no longer have to "persuade" any of the brave Americans in that shelter with me to wear a helmet or other "John Wayne" gear again.

Let there be no doubt, folks...this ATSO stuff was PERSONAL.

The point to this story is -- I no longer had to be convinced of the purpose of all the training and evaluation we had undergone in the years preceding this operation. It was all very real to me -- PERSONAL.

An ORI is our chance to demonstrate to the American taxpayer (your parents, siblings, friends and neighbors) we can perform under a worse-case combat scenario.
It's all about putting stresses on the system not normally present during our daily training regimen and ensuring we have processes in place to keep you alive so you can make the enemy die for their country.

The inspector general teams who will descend upon Eglin in November represent the Air Combat Command and Air Force Materiel Command commanders, who represent the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who represents the Secretary of Defense and the president, who represent these American taxpayers.

The team is merely charged with keeping us honest to those who really matter. They will do the best they can to induce these stresses during the inspection, while the enemy is simulated, to ensure we are ready to survive and operate when the enemy is real. With this in mind, there are two points to ponder as we tackle this challenge.

First, short of deploying you all to the area of responsibility, or actually barraging the Florida Panhandle with chemical weapons, there will never be a perfect way to simulate this hostile environment. I know you have heard this before but please -- don't fight the scenario.

The men and women of Team Eglin comprise a complex and heterogeneous mix of combat capability. We don't necessarily deploy and operate together at the same location, in training or combat.

You've all worked very hard over the past several months to develop the best emulation possible, but the "Base X" simulation will never be totally pristine. Sometimes, you have to use just a little bit of imagination. The superb teamwork we will demonstrate to the IG team is a transferable skill however ... if we can tackle these challenges, we can form very effective teams in combat, too.

The IG team will expect you to react to scenario inputs as realistically as humanly possible, within the limits of common sense and safety. Approach each reaction at face value and react as if every American taxpayer were watching to see how well you performed.

This is where individual PERSONAL responsibility will make all the difference in the world for us. Instead of asking yourself what a particular simulation may allow you to get away with, challenge yourself to react as realistically as possible to every situation, using the simulations as a guideline. Be proactive -- make the IG team tell you when to stop. Go the extra mile -- take it PERSONAL.

Second, be proud of yourselves. In the past several months, Eglin has been through many exercises. All the while, we sent hundreds of Team Eglin warriors to and from the AOR to fight the Global War on Terrorism - not to mention our "typical" ops tempo across the base.

I am truly honored to serve with a group of Americans as devoted to the cause as the men and women of Team Eglin. You already have much to be proud of.