The Power of One

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jared Tanner
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing director of staff
In January, a team of four wing commanders inspected Altus Air Force Base, and as a result, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force awarded us the Commander-in-Chief Installation Excellence Award.  One of the members of that team was the wing commander from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Stanley II.  During his visit, news of a cheating scandal broke at Malmstrom when it was discovered that dozens of missile officers cheated on their testing.  In the aftermath of this scandal, Stanley, despite the fact that he was a brigadier general-select, chose to step down from his position and retire from the Air Force because, in his words, "We let the American people down on my watch."

In a poignant farewell email to his wing titled, "A Lesson to remember...The Power of One," Stanley wondered how different things would have been "had just one solitary Airman spoken up for integrity."  If such an airman had stood up and highlighted the lapses of integrity taking place he would have had the power to change the story completely. 

Leadership could have intervened and fixed the problems and the "honor and dignity" of the wing could have been preserved.  "Tragically," Stanley said, "Peer pressure and the fear of being an outcast prevailed" and no one stood up for integrity. As a result, the names of the wing and Air Force were dragged through the mud in newspapers across the country. Finally, he reminded his wing of an old axiom:  "All that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing."

When I read his email this spring, I was inspired to be a person that stands up for what I know is right, no matter what the circumstance.  I was further inspired this summer when I read a fascinating biography of Winston Churchill by William Manchester titled, "The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932 - 1940." In this book I found a sterling example of one man who made a powerful impact by standing up for what he knew to be right, despite intense opposition.

In the 1930s, the horrors of the trench warfare of World War I were still fresh in the minds of Europeans and Americans. As a result, no one wanted to think about war. Pacifism was all the rage in England and in America, isolationism was in full effect.  Treaty after treaty was signed by European nations to increase their sense of security.  Emboldened by the false sense of security these treaties provided, England slashed defense spending while Hitler rose to power in Germany and began building an immensely powerful military. World leaders, led by England, were convinced they could avoid war by appeasing and negotiating with Hitler.

Churchill, on the other hand, clearly saw Hitler had an insatiable appetite for conquest.  He knew that the only hope of avoiding war, or winning one if it came to that, was for England to build a military strong enough to keep Hitler in check.  Churchill, therefore, tirelessly advocated for this approach.  He was intensely unpopular in the British House of Commons and the room would empty when he rose to speak, with those who remained often laughing at him and calling him a "warmonger."  Despite powerful opposition day after day and year after year, Churchill boldly advocated for strengthening the British military to counter Hitler's threat throughout the 1930s.

Thankfully, Churchill was willing to fight for what he knew to be right because the world might not be the same had he not.  How catastrophically different would our lives be today if Churchill had succumbed to the peer pressure and fear of being an outcast?  The bold actions of Winston Churchill clearly showed the power of one man who was willing to stand up for what he knew to be right, no matter the opposition. 

I hope and pray that, as our generation faces challenges and makes choices each day, we will have the courage to stand boldly for what is right and speak up for integrity.