Bruckbauer on Bravery

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian Bruckbauer
  • Commander, 97 OSS
We have all been inspired by General Lorenz's "Lorenz on Leadership," Lieutenant General Allardice's "Six Sides of the Dice," "18 Lessons in Leadership" by General Powell, and other military articles like this. The titles are "catchy" so they stick in our memories, but there is plenty of substance in these leadership treatises. My goal in this article is to contemplate bravery in leadership. Bravery and risk-taking are inextricably linked, and are essential for promoting innovation.

When I think of a brave person, Major General "Billy" Mitchell comes to mind. His advocacy of airpower in the 1920's provides an outstanding example of bravery and risk-taking in leadership.

After World War I, Mitchell was assigned as the Deputy Director of the Air Service. Due to his experience in World War I and his belief that airpower would be essential to achieving military success in the future, Mitchell did anything he could to get aviation in the news. He encouraged Army pilots to challenge speed, endurance, and altitude records, and encouraged the Secretaries of War and the Navy to set up a series of joint Army-Navy exercises. Mitchell bravely made a case to the Navy that airplanes could sink ships under war conditions, and that the investment in a thousand bombers would be a better investment than a single battleship. When he proved that bombers could sink ships in the 1921 exercises, many political and military leaders ignored what Mitchell had just proven. Risking everything, Mitchell sharply criticized the Army and Navy leadership of incompetence, a move that resulted in an eventual court-martial and reduction in rank to Colonel. Mitchell's bravery and risk-taking eventually led to the creation of a separate service, the US Air Force, in 1947.

Many of the improvements we see today in our Air Force would not have happened unless a brave person stepped forward and took a risk by questioning the status quo. One perfect example right here in the 97th Air Mobility Wing is the new way we started scheduling flights last year. Once the new procedure was implemented, we were able to eliminate 168 non-essential sorties per year, which saved countless man-hours and ultimately saved the Air Force 14.2 million dollars.

Great ideas come in all sizes. Do you have a good idea? Don't let "This is how we've always done things here and it works just fine" deter you from putting your idea forward. The absolute worst thing you can do is remain quiet! What if your idea could save time, money, man-hours, or even lives? Evaluate your surroundings. If you identify an issue or area that can be improved, build a case for your idea and present it to the appropriate decision-maker who can help make it a reality. If, at first, you don't gain approval, don't let this stop you. Take any feedback you're provided, make adjustments if necessary, and then bravely step back into the ring for round 2, 3, 4, or however many rounds it takes.

Believe in yourself. Just think, if Mitchell had been risk-reluctant, if he hadn't set the example of bravery in leadership, we might not have the Air Force we have today. Are you the next "Billy" Mitchell?