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.”