Commentary by Col. Jonathan Webb
50th Mission Support Group commander
The age-old Air Force maxim, “Mission first, people always,” seems an appropriate and necessary mantra for the budget uncertainty we’re facing. It’s true our Air Force cannot operate tomorrow without its fiscal house in order, but it will not operate today without taking care of its people.
As more pressure is placed on the top-line budget, we will continue to face a fiscal flux.
“The cost of infrastructure and overhead, acquisitions and personnel compensation must be addressed in order to put the Department of Defense’s budget on a sustainable path,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during a Pentagon Press Briefing April 10.
As the Air Force continues to fly, fight and win, we continue to focus on education, training and leadership development, despite budget limitations.
Flexibility will continue to be in our Air Force vocabulary. Many of us are in positions, as stewards to the tax payers, to make a direct and consequential impact. But, it’s too easy to let yourself get wrapped up in high-order issues and forget about what really matters at our level.
With an ever-growing emphasis on doing more with less, it’s important to realize our focus must be on our development and wellness outside the uniform as well as in it. Mission readiness, effectiveness and success ultimately rely on our people.
The proverbial question, then, becomes how do we do a better job of taking care of each other with less on the line-item list?
As the commander of the 50th Mission Support Group, I can tell you budget and support are not always synonymous. You cannot put a price on human connection and the person-to-person support, which makes the Air Force family strong. Our strength stems from a community, which recognizes how important each individual is because of what they contribute to the bigger picture.
We make meal plans when a fellow service member becomes a proud parent, we mow the lawn when someone’s deployed, we pick up the slack when someone’s sick or deployed and we’re always there when you need us. These are just some examples of the strength of community we’ve inherited.
Nearly two weeks ago, on April 12, Gen. Paul J. Selva, commander of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, said sequestration is consuming intellectual efforts.
“We misappropriate our attention and we take it off the most important things, which is making sure our Airmen are trained to do the tasks we tell them to do, at the least amount of risk in whatever space they’re in,” said Selva.
Selva’s remarks are a testament to how task-heavy and time-sensitive issues like sequestration can understandably be. But, it’s also important to understand that making sure our Airmen are ready for what lies ahead is not simply a function of training.
Readiness also requires physical, social, mental and spiritual preparedness, which require community and mutual support. We’re fortunate to wear the uniform because, among other things, community and mutual support go hand in hand with military service.
Do what you can to mitigate the effect of the budget difficulties we face on your friends, family and fellow servicemen and women. Don’t let yourself become victim to a routine in which you find yourself managing your people the way you manage your budget. People need to be led by genuine concern and inspiration, not managed like a line on a budget.
Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell once said, “Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves.”
The fiscal uncertainties we face are serious and our Air Force is addressing them as such. But, we cannot face them successfully without our people. Take care of each other.