Looking to the Skies while Flying a Desk

Damn I miss flying! Maybe it’s the brutal week of 0100 wake-ups for virtual conferences in Europe and eyes glazing over the hours of writing and editing capability program plans while riding the pines on staff. Maybe it’s the nostalgia and passion bubbling to the surface after immersing myself in Top Gun II on the big screen. Or maybe it’s the sound of engines roaring, props turning, and aircraft flying overhead as I trudge to and from my cubicle cloud nine. I look to the skies and imagine surfing the clouds among a burgeoning cumulus obstacle course, soaring on a sunny day with the best office with a view, or even being the one to guide the plane through the rough, sometimes shearing rides in wind and rain. Damn I miss flying!

1,073 days have passed since I was last in the seat (but who’s counting), breaking the surly bonds with an incredible crew that I had flown so many missions with before. It was heartbreaking, knowing it would be my last flight as my time in command ended, and flying prospects ahead were uncertain at best. Graced by a few puffs of cloud and with a clear path to touch a few final runways and go on to drop down for a low pass over the Grand Canyon before turning around and heading home. I remember coming in for that final landing, the emotion finally hitting me to the point where I couldn’t choke out the final radio call, making my final landing with one last kiss of the runway, smoothly rolling it out but not wanting to proceed to parking. Blessed to taxi in to a crowd of crew members, leaders, and friends, I sat for just a few more minutes after engine shutdown, relishing the old, stale smell of the plane, the cool desert air hitting me through the window of the open and warming cockpit, and sound of the silence of the mission complete. It was the end of my command tour, and with it, likely the end of my Air Force flying career (and on to the paper-cutting surface to finger missiles or the air-to-air lazing threats of screen saturation). That last flight was a day to celebrate with my squadron and group mates, even if my family couldn’t join in, but it was a significant day of mourning the end of a childhood dream. The earth kept spinning, and life moved on, but damn, I miss flying.

In the meantime, nearly 3 years removed, Big Blue sends you away to continue development for higher calls of school and staff. While I hated the year away from my wife and kids while joining a journey towards Grand Strategy study, I came to love what I was learning and the group I was blessed to bond with. Their backgrounds and stories, the incredible intellect and deep debates…and for the aviators on the team, hearing of their exploits and where they were off to next, back in the air to fly and fight, lead and command. While envious of the environment they were called back to, I am also proud to know they made it back to the skies above. Not only for their love of flight, but in admiring their ability to lead and command. It heightened the joy I had in guiding and mentoring those under my command, in trying to push the boundaries and challenge the quo. To dare to develop new ways of thinking about what could be done instead of what had been done, and in the respite of relationships with those I had served with, hearing of all they were and are building on those experiences now. It is with envy that I wish I was the one in the seat and the sky, but also with pride watching others achieve so much through mutual their love of flight. May they not soon face having to miss flying!

Even in the churn of staff life, where we clock hours in front of a computer or in meetings instead of logging flight hours from a sortie, we can at least look out the window and cheer for our brothers and sisters who escaped to the skies above. Perhaps the combat hours are in fighting through the political bureaucracy to move a program forward; the instrument hours logged through the haze of processes and procedures; the instructor hours for those willing to execute the contingency plan; and the sim hours for the meetings to prep for the meeting about the meeting. Still important in its own way, at its own level; but oh to be the one to keep the engine humming and remain aloft, to be executing what we plan, and being part of that grand strategy we are trying to execute. I hope those that are up there now can stay on orbit as long as they can. It is enough to know that I have been up there, but never enough to quell the urge to return to those skies again. Damn I miss flying.

I’ll be honest, I was brought back to the screen to share these thoughts by the impressive array of vision and visualization within a love story to aviation, Top Gun II found its need for speed and brought back a story that inspired a generation to want to fly. The first elevated my dream of flight into the drive to serve as a pilot. This second journey reignited the desire to return to the air, test those boundaries and push the limits. Not only in flight, but to be the one in the seat, the one executing the mission. It may have its critics, but at its core, the second movie linked the nostalgia from the first with a passion for flight that I hope will inspire the next generation of aviators. I long again to be the man in the arena, the pilot in command of a mission to defend the values we hold dear. But there is a point where that dream ends for one, yet continues through the light of those to follow. To dare, to strive, and to open the opportunity for them to excel. May they embrace the passion of flight as I had, and that I long to do again. But may they do so with full understanding of the fleeting moments of flight, knowing that someday they too will look up and realize how much they miss flying…

Finally, I would be remiss not to speak of so many who danced the skies but lost their partners; who soared and swung among the clouds yet never returned home. With Memorial Day weekend upon us, let us offer a moment to remember the many who fell from the skies above, as well as the many they tried to protect. The great sacrifice offered by so many to protect the freedoms remembered by seemingly so few. Ponder their memories as a reminder of the joy of life, the passion of flight, the call to serve, and the honor in giving for a greater cause. Think of those who rose from nothing to take to the skies; those who broke barriers and pushed boundaries; those who shattered ceilings and challenged the way we think; and those who empowered the rest of us to live the lives we claim today. Embrace that which embodies the freedom offered. Capture that which fills the heart. Honor the fallen by living with the passion in which they gave their lives. May we look to the great spaces of the sky, contemplate what we may be missing, yet embrace what we have because, damn, I know they miss flying. To them, to their memories…Here’s a toast…

Passing the Guidon: 43 ECS Change of Command

It was rough to say good-bye, but I am confident in our next Commander, and take care in knowing “Once a Bat, Always a Bat!” (#OABAAB)

Below is my 43 ECS Change of Command Speech (2019), as the outbound Commander…

The only thing constant is change…so embrace it! Own it.  Make it your own.  Make it better.  We have accomplished some incredible things over these past two years, we have grown and developed as a Bat Family, but that doesn’t stop with change.  It only adjusts our roles.  And in those new roles…I can’t wait to see what will come next.

I mentioned family, the oh-so important context for everything we do.  To my family (Live-streaming on Facebook), thank you for enduring the crazy work hours and struggle to find our balance.  To Jason, Jenny, and the girls, welcome to the Bat Family (again).  That is why this day is so toughwe have an incredible Bat Family.  

Command is NOT about the position, the title, or the Authority.  It is NOT a step towards the next echelon in career progression.  It is about leading that family through the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly.  It requires hard decisions.  It is personal.  It is emotional.  “Working hard for something you don’t care about (or for the wrong reasons) is called stress.  Working hard for something we love is called passion.”  That passion is what drives us to do better, to BE better, to challenge the status quo, and to do whatever it takes to empower all of us to excel.

“Working hard for something you don’t care about (or for the wrong reasons) is called stress.  Working hard for something we love is called passion.” (Simon Sinek)

Jason and Jenny, I am excited to see you lead the Bats forward.  I am excited to pass this guidon to someone I trust, and to a friend.  You will have your own style, and put your own stamp on the next two years, but know that I believe in you.  You will do well. 

It’s also not just about us.  Look around, we all need to drive toward something better, and to do so, we must do it bigger…and do it together.  Col Acquaro, thank you for the trust and confidence over these past two years, I still wish I could stay, but I believe Lt Col Kerbs will be awesome.  To all of our community, to the Jammers, and to the Bats…

Thank You and Lead Well…

-Lt Col Chris “Buck” Weaton




Strength in our Weakness

“For when I am weak, then am I strong.” We need this.  We need to be resilient…ready to overcome any challenge, embrace inevitable change, and ready to face our own fears and demons to push them into the past in order to look with hope to our futures.  But too many of us try to do this alone.  Too many of us hide our struggles and often fail to open up to someone until we reach a stage of near-crisis or even full-blown crisis.  Yet when we bring up the term “resiliency,” we experience the eyerolls and big sighs for another round of training that seems to pay lip-service to the problem, check a box to meet surface requirements, and not fully address the issue or provide real stories and resources.  To get beyond that feeling, we must own it.  We must push beyond just the professional.  We must make it personal.

Why?  In my 2-year squadron command, in my squadron alone, we have experienced four (4) suicidal ideations, two (2) of them to include non-fatal suicide attempts.  Three (3) more members have identified previous suicidal ideations during some sort of counseling.  That list is only what we know of.  How much don’t we know?  What are our Airmen feeling right now?  How many feel extremely stressed, depressed, or have such high anxiety that such a thought might cross their mind?  In most of those cases, we had no idea about the extent of the emotional darkness they were experiencing until it reached a point of near-crisis.  As much as we espouse the idea of intrusive leadership and wingmen principles, their supervisors, peers, and even their closest friends were shocked by revelations of something that could have been a permananent solution to a temporary (usually), yet overwhelming, problem.  Additionally, outside of our squadron, but still within the group, we have been connected to three (3) deaths by suicide with the past two years, and the loss we have felt and the impact that it has had on our community cannot nor should not be brushed aside.  On a broader scale, the Air Force lost 58 active duty Airmen to death by suicide in 2018.  These were coworkers, peers, leaders, and friends.  In every case, we wish beyond expression the desire to walk into work and see them again, to know what we could have done to step in and alter the course of their despair, and to prevent a loss that could have been stopped.

“Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back at least as strong as before.” 

That is why resilience is so important.  That is why we need to be able to bounce back from emotional, mental, physical, behavioral, personal, and professional setbacks, and to help others be able to do so as well.  Not alone, but with fellowship.  With the help from teammates who have been there or known someone who was.  From leaders who do everything they can to get to know their people on multiple levels.  From those leading up to ensure their leadership are okay, and ready to tackle similar challenges.  We so often where our own mask and put on a face we want others to see.  We feel as if we must always be professional, and take the personal out of the equation.

When we keep it “too” professional, and remove the personal, we get it wrong.  We must make it personal.  The essence of leadership, especially in our Air Force, is to act through compassion and care for our people in order to empower them to complete the mission.  It is because we care that we drive mission accomplishment, the training to prepare for those same missions, enforce the standards that uphold our mission capabilities, and develop policies and practices to provide our men and women the ability to grow, develop, and learn.  We must seek out comprehensive balance in all of our lives, and in doing so, build a resiliency that provides hope in the face of any challenge.  When we know we’re all in, when we’re in it together, then we know someone’s got our back.  It gives us courage.  Others help us stand when we cannot, and often when we choose to try to go it alone, that is when we really fall.

So we must make it personal.  In college, I fought my own spiritual demons on several levels, but didn’t want to burden my friends or thought some of them would think I was crazy.  After 2 weeks of near-sleepless nights, it was one of my professors who called me into her office to address her concern that there was a noticeable change with me, so we talked a little, but she also encouraged me to to talk to my parish priest, also an Air Force Chaplain.  Once I had opened up to both her and my priest, I was able to open up to my friends much more easily.  I was able to move beyond the embarassment of sharing the issue and receive the support and fellowship, to include counseling with the Chaplain…the help I needed…to take on those demons head-on and overcome them.  Who knows how long it would have taken or what it could have led to if that professor had not addressed it with me directly.  And once I had opened up to friends, to my surprise, the biggest response I received was their disappointment and sadness in the fact that I had not shared it with them earlier.  They wanted to help.  They wanted to be there…not to judge, but to walk alongside me and face those challenges with me, together.  It was a lesson I will always remember, and one which influences my push for intrusive leadership today.

Today is no different.  I still face many battles in private, but have learned to open up to many trusted friends, and even incorporate some of the issues into our Operational Risk Management (ORM) process before flights.  It often surprises people at the transparency of sharing some personal issues, but it has also tended to empower someone else on the crew to speak up as well.  It doesn’t mean we can’t do the job, but I do believe if we understand each others’ mindsets and emotional balance, then we can incorporate that into daily risk management as a team.  It enforces “radical candor,” open feedback, and honest assessment of a situation that we may try to take too far on our own.

The question I keep coming back to is simple.  If I know several friends who have a myriad of emotional issues going on, as well as myself, how much is going on in the lives of each of my Airmen (that I’m not aware of)?  What don’t I know, but possibly need to?  In that, we must be ever vigilant, as it has proven important to see that subtle change in someone we work with.  That may be enough.  It may not.  But we have to be ready to respond, try to get ahead of a problem before it becomes worse, and try to stave off those spirals into potential despair.  We can’t do that if we don’t get to know each other and drive towards the interconnected mentality of team who will always be there for each other.


Resilience does not equal a “toughen up” mindset.  In fact, it is 180 degrees out in that regard.  Resilience is the ability to let our guard down to get the help we need.  It is the ability to admit, to both ourselves and others, that we need someone else to assist us in a time of need.  True strength does not come from individual effort to “go it alone,” but rather from the collective teamwork of an insulating support network.  The great thing we need to realize is that there are many resources available.  All we need is help finding them, and taking that first step.  Whether that starts with a friend, a supervisor, the First Sergeant, our squadron leadership, an external source such as a crisis hotline, Military OneSource, reading testimonials, articles, and or other materials, seeing a Chaplain, or utilizing our medical health services directly, we must reach out.  And the sooner we can do so, the more likely we can fight a problem before it becomes an overwhelming problem.  We have to.  Our Airmen are too important.  Our families are too important.  You are too important…


Additional Resources





Time: Breaking the Illusion of Control and the Advent of the 4-Hour Duty Day

Our squadron has welcomed the advent of a seemingly drastic change in the management of our time through the institution of a 4-hour duty day policy.  The new policy establishes new baseline duty hours from 1000-1400 daily, with a few exceptions for squadron training and development outside of that window.  On the surface, it appears to be a significant shift away from the standard 0730-1630 Air Force duty day, and begs the question of how the same amount of work will continue to be accomplished, especially from those outside of the squadron.

But what is this policy shift really about?  Here is what it is not.  It is not a timecard mentality where our Airmen are required to punch-in and punch-out at those exact times.  It does not relieve the constant workload we must accomplish to meet internal and external requirements.  It should not remove the efforts to gain greater efficiency and effectiveness in all we do.  And it does not negate the focus on the mission.  So what’s the difference?  This change is fundamentally a shift in our cultural mindset.  It is simply a change in who controls our time.  Before this change, the Air Force controlled our time through the unwritten requirement etched in our earliest training to be in the office from 0730-1630.  Now, we are formally giving half that time back to each Airman to control their time outside of core office hours from 1000-1400.  The expectations remain the same.  Accountability is still required by their supervisors.  Intrusive leadership, innovation, professional development is still needed.  And the flying and training schedules continue to take precedence and will not be impacted.  But the time is ours.

“This change is fundamentally a shift in our cultural mindset.  It is simply a change in who controls our time.”

Why?  “Time waits for no man,” so it is what we do with our time that counts.  To more adequately give our members the tools to manage their time, we must first provide them with time to manage.  Now, instead of me, our leadership team, or supervisors prioritizing the individual time for our Airman, this allows each Airman to prioritize that time themselves.  In turn, our supervisors and leaders must manage the “office time” more efficiently, focusing within the 4-hour window.  That frees up the traditional periods from 0730-1000 and 1400-1630 for individuals to decide what matters most.


There is still work to be done, and expectations support the continued pursuit of excellence as well as finding the right work-life balance, or integration, for each individual.  Our officer and enlisted force must still maintain standards; attend external meetings; sustain and improve physical fitness; balance mental, spiritual, and emotional health; accomplish personal and professional development; facilitate greater quality of life for themselves and their families; and most importantly, focus on the study and improvement of their primary duty to fly.  There is always room for improvement, and all of us must make the most of our time in order to continue on that path for greater success, both for ourselves, and for the greater good of the squadron and Air Force.  The 4-hour duty day does not hinder that effort…it empowers the Airmen to prioritize and utilize their time as necessary to achieve their own balance.  It is ultimately about giving them the control, along with trust and expectations, to get the job done…and done well.

Prior to instituting this policy, I performed many walkabouts in the squadron where I found Airmen who were engaged with their smart phones, surfing the internet, or just casually conversing with friends/coworkers to pass the time.  I don’t think they were being lazy.  I think they often did not have enough work to do to fill a full duty day, but were constrained by the expectation to stay in the office “just in case” someone called or something popped up.  Most of them do a great job when tasked, and often come up with great ideas to improve the squadron and our processes on their own.  In fact, many have commented since that they felt “guilty” to study or workout during the duty day because of the perception that they should be in the office.  So the policy shift freed them from that guilt by actualizing reduced office time expectations for everyone.  In our annual climate assessment surveys, common trends in the remarks from my 2 years as well as the previous 10 discussed a high ops tempo, not enough time to study, not enough time to workout, and being constantly driven to do “more with less.”  There has always been a perception of lack of control over these members’ time.  So in part, this is a direct answer to those comments.

We are a squadron that has been contantly deployed for 17 years now, just after 9/11.  Many of our Airmen, as any many units across the Air Force and greater military, have deployed multiple times to support our mission and the continued war on terror.  They have served well, but those constant and repetitive deployments come at a cost.  They take time away from our Airmen and their families.  They require months of constant work with little time off.  They take away from each individual’s overall balance while adding new stressors that must be juggled with the rest.  And when they’re home, we (I too) ask for even more.  We continue to train, develop, require betterment in our primary duties while balancing more responsibility and less continuity in our office roles, and to do all that more effectively, we must ask them to do it at the expense of time and distance.  It is more time away from their families.  It leads to more time on the road.  So yes, ops tempo continues to be high to build and maintain readiness.  However, we must take a knee when we can.  This is just one way to do that.  The holiday min-manning standown was another, but not everyone could partake because of that very ops tempo.  So this is the new constant, to allow our Airmen to control their time when they are home.  To get done what needs to get done, then focus on the many other important parts of their life aside from their office job.

So now our team has the ability to study without confinement to the office.  They can workout whenever timing suits their schedule, without having to cut into their sleep.  They can sleep-in if needed to catch up, or come in early to knock out their own work before most people are around.  They can better control their quality of life with their families.  They now have the freedom, without guilt, approval, or expectation, to take their kids to school, or to pick them up.  They can make personal appointments without having to “miss” time in the office, and can use the extra time to prep for whatever they need.  Ironically, the Flight Commanders and Flight Chiefs have expressed the greater satisfaction in the duty day shift; not because of all mentioned above, but because they can utilize that time before and after the new 4-hour duty day in relative quiet which has allowed them to greatly increase their focus on the tasks at hand.

In an age of instant access, we no longer need to be tied to the office.  Smart phones provide instant connectivity if we need to contact someone, or pass information.  Social media provides outlets for information dispersal as well as notification.  We have the ability to link to other networks, work remotely, dial-in, or get our tasks done without sitting at a desk.  However, there is value in some presence as well.  Remote networking cannot replace face-to-face interactions, and it cannot build the depth of relationships needed to perform in the high ops tempo world we live in.  So the question is about finding the right balance.  The 4-hour duty day may not be the perfect answer, but it is a new starting point.  It will build a new baseline that we will continue to assess in order to maximize the utilization of time for all of our Airmen.

The benefits are already being showcased.  Morale is increasing, as most would expect when the time-expectation for a duty day has been reduced.  But so is productivity.  People are getting their work done faster, more efficiently, and more cooperatively because they not longer have a reason to sit around and wait for the clock to expire.  I have yet to notice a change in the amount of work accomplished.  Growing pains were expected as the squadron adjusts to the new paradigm, but have been manageable.  Quality of life is improving for our families, and our leadership team is able to spend more time on proactive approaches to forecast problems instead of reactively responding to issues only when they develop (at least within our sphere of control; unfortunately we can’t stop external short-notice taskers).  And the slight smirk of pride coming from this commander comes from the fact that many of our squadron members still come in early or stay later…not because they have to, but because they want to use their time more effectively.  The motivation towards bigger initiatives is still high, the pursuit of personal and team excellence is still driving our Airmen, and the core values are being realized to greater effect.

Time is fleeting, so we must ask ourselves, what impact will we make with the time we’re given?  Don’t acquiesce to the illusion of control…take your time back and make it count.

More thoughts on this topic:







Don’t Forget About You

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish…”

One of the best things about any leadership position is serving those around you. It’s about taking care of other people. The meetings, the people, the policies, the strategy, issues, and the triumphs…all take precedence over yourself.  Putting others first is an incredible trait for leaders in any position, and is a pillar of our Air Force core values, but it can also often lead to forgetting about yourself.

In my case, I have been blessed to be trusted with the reigns as a Squadron Commander.  My time in command has been incredible, with the predominant regret only that I could not do more for my squadron and my Airmen. I love every minute, even the tough ones, and wake up every morning excited to dive into another day.  But much of that passion and focus has been at the expense of myself.  One of my big failures in command is that I have not made enough time for myself for basic things like physical fitness, healthier eating, meditation, prayer, and better balance with family and my other priorities.  On the one hand, I wouldn’t change a thing, but on the other, I know I need to find better balance both for my family and for myself.  It’s better for them, better for me, and will also pay dividends to my squadron.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish… “

My eight-year-old son just ran 4 miles in under 30 minutes at school yesterday!  Incredible!  But it made me realize that I can no longer run a 7:30 min/mile pace (without some gut-wrenching), so I can’t keep up with my son right now.  It hit me like a lightning bolt…that I need to (re)start now to improve my own fitness.  If for nothing else, then just to keep up with my kids!  I’ve started and re-started many programs, had a New Year’s resolution to get back in shape (again), but my hope is that this realization, as well as putting pen to paper on the topic, will kickstart the habit that I lost a long time ago.

I can still pass the PT test, but I’m not where I want to be.  I can “get by,” but not in achieving the self-determined standards of excellence that I expect of myself.  So it’s time to refocus, shift gears, and adjust the balance between command and personal goals.  But here’s the thing.  My vision of a fitness program jumps right into 3-mile runs and 1-2 hour workouts.  I have expectations based on memories that no longer apply.  Therefore, step one (in any program) is setting realistic goals and expectations.  Can I train to run a half-marathon…yes.  Can I do it next month?  Probably not, at least not without significant pain and agony.  And all with a significant increase of time which will make that struggle for balance even more prescient.

The question then becomes, “How do I begin?”  The key lies with the reminder that it’s not where we start, but where we finish.  3-miles a day…a great goal, but not yet.  1-2 hour workouts…another great goal, but not yet.  One of the biggest killers of achieving goals and resolutions is by overexerting yourself too early in the process, trying to get there too quickly, and not realizing how much work it may take to get there.  Although that can seem overwhelming, it takes a steady plan and commitment to see it through.  So it’s not about where we start, it’s about where we finish.  But we have to start.  And starting is half the battle.  I’ll be honest, that may mean starting with 5-min runs a day…just a half mile each day in the first week.  That sounds really (really) light based on what I used to do, but at this point, it’s not about the distance or time, but about re-starting the habit.  It’s about being deliberate…about intentionally allotting that time each day.  Then as I re-develop the habit, I can add distance, time, variance, and continue to grow.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish… “

Before my change of command, I will run another half-marathon.  That gives me 4.3 months to start, build, train, and re-develop the habit of a focus on fitness and personal health. So as I renew my focus on personal fitness with a slow, steady plan for improvement, starting now, I challenge you to do the same.  Don’t compare to others, as “comparison is the thief of joy,” but determine what you want for yourself.  What will make you happier, healthier, and ultimately lead to a better you to then serve others more effectively?  Start now. With the many priorities clamoring for our time and energy, don’t forget about you…


MLK Day: Remember His Words, Remember His Leadership

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'”

Today we honor the work, and the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But let us not honor him simply by letting freedom ring simply as freedom from a  day at work.  This should not be just a day off.  It may be well-deserved to our hard-working Airmen, and many Americans, yes, but for a purpose.  For Dr. King attacked an issue with such vigorous passion that his name will be forever be remembered in the halls of American history as changing the landscape of America.  He challenged the system to provide what it had designed…equality for all men and women.

This topic is especially poignant for me, for two reasons.  One, I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to command.  In that role, it is my duty and obligation to ensure that all of my Airmen, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, or other differentiating characteristics have an equal opportunity to succeed.  Their beliefs, or varying traits and lifestyles, belong to them, and should be a source of personal pride.  But those differences have little bearing on their ability to perform their duties, as they deserve every opportunity to be treated equally and fairly.  Our Airmen deserve respect in how they are treated, in recognition for excellence, as well as when discipline is required.  Mutual respect is essential to everything we do, every policy we create, and every action we take.  It sets the tone to allow greater inclusiveness, connectivity, and equality throughout the organization.  Only then can we truly strive towards the excellence the Air Force demands.

Second, and more important to me personally, I am blessed to have a diverse family through adoption, and I take great pride in my family.  However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the fears of a father who has children with different skin color.  My oldest son is from Ethiopia, and we have faced a few challenges of being a white family with a son with brown skin.  And I have three daughters from China, who are obviously non-white, and cause looks of confusion at times when we are out in public.  Looks which I now smile at, because of the pride I feel.  But I worry about how they are treated in school.  I worry about what they will face growing up.  There is still inequality on the streets, and it threatens the livelihood of children of color.  The national headlines over the last two years have brought this to bear for men of color, especially.  I don’t intend to wade into the debate of whether those individuals did anything to incite a reaction from police or others in the white community or not; this is not political.  What I do focus on, is the fact that my wife and I have to educate my son to be careful about wearing his hoodie up, or sagging his shorts.  We have to warn him about making playful gestures with his hand as a gun, even if just playing with his friends as all kids do.  Why?  Because those simple acts may seem normal for a white kid; they were normal for me growing up.  But for my son, simple acts like that may seem more threatening to others because of the inequality that still exists, even if it is an inequality of perception.  It creates more talk, puts more people on edge, and we have seen adults react differently to him first-hand.  Those simple actions are still perceived more threatening from someone with brown skin.  And that just scrapes the surface.  It is only a small taste of what many black families in America face, and many of them have to face much more.  I don’t claim to understand what it’s like to live their lives, and having son from Ethiopia is not the same, but having a son with brown skin has opened my eyes much more to the plight of many American kids across the country.  So my challenge to myself and the many white Americans out there is to challenge our own perceptions.  Challenge our own views.  Many would say they are not racist, but still may move across the aisle or street, away from a black teenager with a hoodie up.  So be introspective, and challenge yourself to see where you stand, and if this may apply to you, as it does to me, constantly reevaluate and see how we can overcome those perceptions.  If we can admit to ourselves the possibility that we may treat others differently because of their differences, then we open our minds to the hope of changing.  It is not weakness to admit our own shortfalls, but strength in the continual growth and development we require to constantly improve our own humanity.

These shortfalls and fears as a father highlight a world that still needs to change, one that still needs to address issues of inequality.  Equality begins with one.  It begins with how we treat each other, not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.  MLK taught us that, and it is essential to understanding how we must treat those around us, whether we’re talking about family, our military sisters and brothers in arms, or society as a whole.  We must keep Dr. King’s dream alive, and moving forward…

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”  I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.  I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.  I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The dream must continue not only in the fight for equality in everything we do, but in enacting the inspiration MLK provided.  It lives on through his vision, in his quest to improve the plight of black Americans and to improve American society.  In doing so, he provided an example of what it means to be a great communicator, to truly embrace a vision and drive forward to achieve it.  We can apply that example in everything we do.  In our own initiatives, our own tasks…we can utilize his purpose and his example as one to emulate in our own lives.  He knew why he fought for equality and justice.  And knowing his “why,” he never wavered.

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, take a moment to ponder his impact, and strive towards his ideals.  The fight for equality, to ensure the same opportunities are afforded to all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, or how they’re different.  But also take a moment to think about his monumental efforts to lead a movement for change.  Consider how he led…how he moved millions to fight for change, inspiration that lives on today.  Dr. King challenged the status quo, but he did so with love and mutual respect, seeking justice through peace.  Take time today to watch or read his “I have a Dream” speech (click here for the text of his speech).  Think about the way he attacks the issue of equality.  It is not through, hate, it is through love.  Even against those he speaks against, he does not try to tear them down, but build all Americans up.  He does not seek additional opportunity, but equal opportunity.  His is a vision of leadership, love, and methodology of how to change the world.

Equality at work, in all facets, is something we must constantly strive for.  Equality in society is something we must be a beacon of hope for.  Equality in our families is something essential to how we build up those we love.  That is a cornerstone of leadership.  His examples embody all that we strive for as Airmen, living our core values of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.”  He led well; may we do the same…

Parting thoughts. Consider the 10 Most Tweeted MLK Quotes (courtesy USA Today):

1.  “The time is always right to do what is right.”

2.   “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

3.  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

4. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

5. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

6.  “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

7.  “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”

8. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

9. “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

10. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”



Find your “Why”

Why do we do what we do?  What is our motivation and what drives us day in and day out?  If we can’t answer that, it is very difficult to achieve success and pursue excellence. Without the “why,” excellence doesn’t really matter.  If we seek excellence for the “what,” the products, processes, and policies that we create and actuate, we might be able create excellent products that provide little value because we don’t understand why they exist.

We schedule our day, run to meetings, attend training, produce reports, respond to taskers, and focus on our time and efforts on a myriad of products and processes that are required in both our personal and professional lives.  Why?  If we can’t answer that simple question, then it is easy to get caught in a cycle where we are just spinning our wheels.  Meetings for the sake of meetings.  Busy work.  Work that ultimately provides little value.  However, if we can understand the purpose behind our work, then we can increase the value of it by improving the products and processes that we spend our time and effort on. We can then avoid the trappings of “That’s the way it has always been done.”

Here’s the key.  Know the “why” behind everything we do.  If you don’t, question it.  Challenge the status quo.  Challenge the standard.  Look beyond normal operations and seek improvement.  That includes challenging me when you don’t know the “why.”  It is part of the feedback loop necessary to ensure we’re tracking in the right direction and making good decisions.  If I can’t explain why I set a certain policy, make a decision, or task the squadron to accomplish something, I need (not want, but need) the feedback and brutal honesty from squadron members to ensure we’re adding value by aligning with our vision.  You may not always agree with those decisions or policies, and we must understand the decisional authority within the chain of command, but you should understand the purpose and rationale that led to a decision or policy.  Know the “why.”

Reflecting on that why, I want to share why what we do as members of the Compass Call community matters.  It’s my why and what drives my pursuit for constant improvement in everything we do, day in and day out.  Ten seconds matter.  Twelve years ago while deployed to one of our current operating locations in USCENTCOM’s area of responsibility, a young Capt Weaton received a random phone call from an Airman on convoy duty who was embedded within an Army transportation unit in Iraq.  When I received the call, I was working on the Mission Planning Cell (MPC) after flying every other day for the previous 2-3 weeks.  Normally, mission planning had become a routine, and for a copilot, there weren’t many calls to take, so this was out of the ordinary.

At the time, Compass Call was part of an effort to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as that had become a significant threat to our men and women fighting on the ground, traveling in convoys, or otherwise susceptible to the IED threat.  Honestly, it was a frustrating mission because it was very difficult to determine what effects, if any, that Compass Call had on the battlefield.  Many days we would return exhausted after long missions without any idea whether we had achieved anything.  Thus it often raised the question in our minds of “why are we doing this?”  “What effects are we achieving?”

But that Airman answered those questions for us.  He had called that day to say thank you…for saving his life.  Not thinking we had achieved anything, you can imagine my confusion and surprise for hearing those words.  I found out that he was imbedded with an Army convoy and that his unit was traveling north along a common supply route.  As they were moving ahead, in what they thought were stable, less-threatening conditions, there was a giant explosion ahead of their convoy.  At the rate they were traveling, the Airman informed me that he was in the second vehicle, and had only been about 10 seconds away from being hit by the explosion…it was an IED that had targeted our convoys with the intent to damage and destroy our vehicles, but more significantly, to kill our troops.  If the IED had exploded as the convoy had passed, it would have taken the lives of many of the 32 soldiers in their convoy and the Airman I was speaking to.

Our Compass Call mission had been relatively simple.  We swept the route ahead of our convoys with the intent to pre-detonate IEDs prior to convoys transiting along those routes.  But success was hard to measure; until then, crews were uncertain whether our missions were making a difference.  On this night, they were able to correlate our orbit, capabilities, timing, and location to validate that Compass Call had caused that IED to preemptively detonate.  From the air, we had no idea of our effects that night.  But that 10 seconds of buzzer on had unknowingly become the difference between life and death for the men and women in that convoy.  What we had done that night mattered, even if we couldn’t see our effects.  Our execution of the mission made the difference in protecting the lives of those troops.  Although we may not know when, 10 seconds can matter.  Be ready.  Pursue excellence.  And make those 10 seconds count.


Note.  If you haven’t read “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, I highly encourage it.  To get started, check out his TED talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action .  He explains how true leaders create vision by establishing “the why.”  “It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.”


Books that Stay with Me

What books have left their mark?  I have received several questions regarding what I have read for my own professional development or what I recommend for others.  Many options are available and can provide a range of thought on leadership, life, and self-improvement.  Many I have forgotten, but I took some time to ponder those books that truly impacted the way I think or view the world.  Below are a few of those books that stay with me to this day, no matter when I read them.  They may help provide a window into my perspective, provide inspiration to you, or simply be a good read, but regardless, below are a few books to kickoff my recommended ProDev reading list (for now).  This is a beginning; help me to build it into something more.  Read well…










Start with Why (Simon Sinek)

Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

Ishmael (Daniel Quinn)

Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders (Joel Manby)

The Aviators (Winston Groom)

The Count of Monte Christo (Alexander Dumas)

The Demon-Haunted World (Carl Sagan)

Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)

Wired for War (P.W. Singer)

The Kite Runner (Khalid Hosseini)

Leaders Eat Last (Simon Sinek)

The Next 100 Years (George Friedman)

Beyond Civilization (Daniel Quinn)

The Revenge of Geography (Robert Kaplan)

The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell)

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (Tim Harford)

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (Alfred Lansing)

Contact (Carl Sagan)

Ghost Fleet (P.W. Singer & August Cole)

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (Robert Kaplan)

Initial Expectations

Find your “Why.”  I truly believe in the Compass Call mission and our people, but it’s easy to lose sight of what drives us.  My “why” stems from an experience over a decade ago when a young Airman embedded within an Army convoy unit called to say “thank you” for saving his life.  We had pre-detonated an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq only 10 seconds ahead of their convoy, and as a result, saved the lives of 30 soldiers.  10 seconds matter.  Make them count.

Stick to the Air Force Core Values.  Integrity First:  it will ensure we do things right, for the right reasons.  Mutual respect, trust, and dignity form the foundation for effective teamwork.  Service Before Self.  Our mission takes the fight to the enemy to serve a greater good.  Be ready, and seek the betterment of yourself and our squadron in order to serve that greater purpose.  Strive for Excellence in everything you do.  I expect your best efforts, an unrelenting work ethic, and the character to form the bedrock of your pursuit of excellence.  Challenge your limits.

Establish balance.  The effort to achieve excellence does not equate to endless hours and constant presence on duty.  I expect your commitment, but I also encourage your own pursuit of balance in the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, professional, social, and personal components of your lives.  Utilize your personal time so that you are ready to face any challenge, execute the mission, and achieve personal and professional success.

Effective communication is imperative to squadron success.  A positive, transparent information flow is essential.  I expect brutal honesty in feedback up and down the chain of command.  Identify issues, propose solutions, and challenge each other when wrong or off-track.  Attack the problem, and keep each other accountable in mission execution, readiness, and the maintenance of our professional standards.  Debrief when and where appropriate, but do so with the constant intent to achieve squadron or self-improvement.

Lead at every level.  I expect intrusive leadership from my supervisors.  Know your people and their families.  Mentor constantly.  Empower them.  Lead through example.  Be the expert in your field.  “Lead up” by challenging what doesn’t make sense.  Push each other to improve products, processes, or policies.  Challenge me to do the same.

Publish or perish.  Build continuity.  Ensure we do not have single points of failure.  Products and processes must be able to be accomplished regardless of who is behind the work.  Document, document, document…it establishes the foundation for our ability to reward, rehabilitate, or remove personnel as situations dictate.  Innovate.  Do the research and propose new ideas that will challenge the status quo, establish greater efficiencies, and accomplish greater mission effectiveness.  Put your thoughts in writing.

Our vision is to achieve proficiency in every facet of our duties.  Our mission is to be ready to electronically attack the enemy…anytime, anywhere.  Be ready.  Make your impact.  Lead well, and earn this…

Serving to Command

The epitome of leadership is to be able to serve those who have either chosen to follow or must follow us in our capacity as organizational leaders.  In command, that adds additional weight and authority to accomplish something greater while taking care of those in our charge.  The essence of command lies in our ability to serve on multiple levels and (attempt to) push our leadership for our people beyond the “have to” and into the “want to” perspectives of followership.  Servant leadership can take us there by showing we care about more than ourselves and that we’re doing it to achieve a greater good for our mission, organization, and the people who accomplish that mission and make up that organization.

“A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.” (Jackie Robinson)

A heart for service occurs at many levels.  By nature, we must serve our organizations and leaders in the pursuit of the vision and mission of those organizations.  We can serve beyond our organization by achieving the purpose of that organization.  But most importantly, we can serve those we work with from differing perspectives as leaders, supervisors, subordinates, followers, peers, or mentors.  Command consolidates all of those perspectives while tailoring our actions and decisions to the service of the greater good for both our people and our mission.  In that role, we must daily ask ourselves what have we done for our organization, our people, ourselves, and our country today?

“There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” (Ronald Reagan; Harry Truman)

To meet our challenge of achieving the mission, we serve ourselves in our daily efforts to become tactically proficient and experts at everything we are responsible for.  We serve our peers and teams by doing all we can to increase their tactical proficiency and job expertise.  We serve those in charge through development, mentoring, training, and education to ensure growth.  We serve those whose charge we fall within by striving for the vision they set out, and engaging when that path is unclear.  We serve our organizations with every effort to do our jobs while seeking improvements, efficiencies, and continuity to sustain where we work.  We serve our country by being ready to do what we train for and finding ways to do it better, then bringing those skills to bear when and where needed.  In command, we serve by accomplishing that cycle of service beyond ourselves to ensure everyone in our charge is ready to do the same.  Make them ready.  Grow their skills.  Then watch them exceed our expectations.  If we serve that greater purpose in everything we do, we can truly lead…

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