Leadership in Times of Austerity|
Commentary by Lt. Col. Randolph Smith
8/2/2012 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- What exactly is "Sequestration" and what does it mean for us here at Team Barksdale? Some of you may have heard this term, and some of you may be working in positions that know a great deal about this topic. With apologies to our Comptroller experts, my overly-simple definition is that the Department of Defense will have to share half of the projected budget deficit cuts planned by Congress over the next 10 years, unless another deal is reached by Congress concerning the budget.
Some of the media commentary on this subject is alarming, about the possible negative effects to the Department of Defense and military readiness and capabilities. I don't know to what extent these comments will be true, but that is not the focus of my article. Rather, I want to give a little historical perspective, and show how important leadership at all levels is to handling a circumstance like this.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has faced budgetary concerns. We have seen this movie many times in the past. After the Vietnam War in the early 1970's, painful budget cuts led to the famous term, "Hollow Force." Many commentators and people in positions of influence were convinced America was in decline, and that the Soviets would triumph during the Cold War, and that we couldn't possibly compete. Going a little further back, immediately after World War II, the nation demobilized rapidly, and a lot of commentators at the time believed that with the advent of nuclear weapons, most of the rest of the military would not be needed and much was allowed to atrophy. Prior to World War II, the United States had the 17th largest military in the world, and was chronically short of cash during the Great Depression. There have always been warnings of dire consequences to military readiness, and always concerns about the budgetary impact of funding decisions.
In each case inspired leaders at all levels adapted to the circumstances, kept the professionalism of the military services, and sowed the seeds of future success in combat. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, laid the groundwork for future success in planning, training and organizing the US Army at the time that paid off huge dividends just a few years later. In the early 1970's, Col. John Boyd applied the bitter lessons of air combat in Vietnam, and facing huge budgetary constraints and many critics, ensured the F-16 Fighting Falcon entered the U.S. Air Force. As many of you know, this aircraft has been one of the linchpins of our arsenal for two generations. In the late 1970's, facing some of the worst budgetary times for the U.S. military, inspired leaders turned an old National Guard base in the Mojave Desert in California - Fort Irwin - into what became the National Training Center. The NTC was absolutely vital to the, overwhelming success in Operation Desert Storm and today in preparing for counterinsurgency operations. There are many other examples Exercise Red Flag, fielding of the A-10, preserving the military education system for both officers and enlisted, etc. Many of our best organizational decisions, and most successful pieces of equipment have their origins during times of budgetary constraint, faced controversy, and were threatened with failure. Good leaders saw their importance for the future and made things work, regardless.
So what does this mean for us, today? I don't want to minimize the difficulties of any potential funding constraints, and I don't know how the budgetary decisions will play out in the coming years. The commentators don't either.
What I do know, is that we have exceptional enlisted, officer and civilian leaders in our Air Force, who will work past these problems, come up with innovative ideas, and won't be deterred. Things are going to go wrong sometimes. We can complain about lack of resources - and we all do occasionally. But if we let this define us, we won't be part of the solutions to the problems that we face in whatever organization we operate.
Many before us faced the same kind of problems, and came up with solutions that we are taking advantage of today. Regardless of funding levels, let's make the decisions within our span of control, whether it's big or small, that our successors will thank us for, and may pay off in ways we can't really predict right now.