Perspective to help with unexpected decisions

by Lt. Col. Paul Silas 86th Civil Engineer Squadron commander

KMC, below I’m going to run down a few basic topics that have continuously come up during my 23-year career. Hopefully these will help you when you get hit by some of the tough decisions that will inevitably come up this week.

• Service: It’s not about me but about the greater good.

The nation doesn’t keep a military because it’s cool and nice to have. Our nation spends billions of dollars on a military because it’s a necessity. Being “Forward, Ready, Now” makes adversaries hesitate to act. Germany and NATO greatly benefit from your service here. Our predecessors, through their sacrifice, built a reputation for fairness and effectiveness that we must preserve. That is why the nation pays such a high bill for us, for you.

Some might disagree, but you also benefit from your presence here. You get to see the castles, cathedrals, enjoy the family-oriented German culture and travel the origins of Western culture. But do not forget, you owe the nation its two bits. Our country isn’t spending millions on us for European vacations; we’re here so our government can respond militarily at a moment’s notice. We volunteered to do this job. It’s important to keep your focus, fitness and competence at a peak. Yes, you are overseas and the beer is tasty, but do not forget why you’re here.

• Overly complex things break down. Keep it simple.

Automatic transmissions, with all those moving parts and complex valve gears, do not last very long when compared to a basic manual transmission, which have maybe 10 percent of the parts. They are also a lot harder to fix, and they break faster. When making a plan of action to handle a complex task, break it into distinct parts and attack them individually. Your folks will find it easier to focus on a single goal at a time.

Over time, you’ll find you reach a rank in which you have to provide orders to subordinates. You can make it substantially easier if you keep the plans simple. It keeps your folks from stressing out and things moving efficiently. Simplicity also contributes to your people’s effectiveness. Once they gain a few victories they gain confidence and become even more efficient. It seems pretty basic, correct? Not always. I see people forget this and stress out every day.

• A positive attitude and strong work ethic is what every commander wants.

You can’t choose who you work for or who works for you. Eight bases and eight deployments taught me that life gets a whole lot better when you stop fighting the boss and “make it fun while getting it done.” When you show up to work with a positive attitude the world treats you a little better. Your boss will appreciate the help and co-workers will want to carry the toolbag with you on jobs — everything just gets better. Next thing you know, folks want to be around you.

When you add a strong work ethic to that positive attitude you step into “hero” territory. The boss can hand you a task and know it’s going to get done without a bunch of push back and flak. Next thing you know, he’s coming to you regularly and recognition shortly follows.

• A favor today is an obligation tomorrow.

Your shop is manned for a specific mission. Typically, your manpower document barely mans you for that mission. When you take on another unnecessary enduring task with no more resources you degrade your shop. As a unit commander, we many times do not get a choice on what missions we’re given without additional manning, but we very quickly see the impacts on the unit.

In your life, take a look at what you’re doing. Do you need to be doing it, or is it mission creep that someone else should be doing? Private life is where I see this most blatantly. For example, Airman one loans Airman two his car for a week. Next thing you know, Airman two is driving the car more than Airman one but not paying for gas, insurance or fixes.

At work or home, be aware that a favor today is an obligation tomorrow and limit this where you can. You will be happier and more effective.

In summary, there is no genius philosophy here. I suspect you’re like me and will have a few unexpected decisions that will hit you next week. If any of these perspectives help you it was worth your time reading this.