Challenge the status quo, if only to ensure it’s the best way of doing business!

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeff Smith
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

I am amazed every day at my inability to clearly see or recognize the things around me.  I walked into the office one day and asked how long the F-15 poster board had been leaning against the window.  “Sir, that’s been here since when Col. Pierce was the commander.”  I’ve seen it every day; walked by it every day for two years!  But I’ve never really seen it; my brain never processed that it was even there.  My wife laughs at me at home when I can’t find things—random things, EVERYthing; they’re typically right in front of me and I just can’t see them for some reason.  These are physical, tangible things I’m talking about, that I simply can’t see sometimes.  But the same blindness can apply to processes, policies and a whole lot more--these are intangible and (maybe?) harder to see. 

Slow down when you can.  Open your eyes.   Think critically about what you see, what you do, and how it’s done.  Even if only for 5 minutes each day, take a moment to LOOK.   Jot down notes.  Then do something with the notes!

I was talking to our Defenders (Security Forces) recently, based on the gate-runners all across the nation.  We talked about looking, about observing, about situational awareness.  I highlighted that the older, higher-ranking Airmen were less likely to identify any security concerns.  Not because they’re not trained, or concerned, or interested, or motivated.  Because when you’ve been somewhere longer or done something longer, you’re more apt to fall into the trap of “this is the best we can do,” or “we’ve always done it this way.”  A younger, newer Airman can look at the same infrastructure, process, and resource decision and say “Why?  That’s dumber than dirt.  If we just did XX… it would be…” easier, safer, cheaper, better for morale, awesome, etc. 

During the visits with our Defenders, I shared a professional wake-up call I experienced about 8 years ago now.  In 2010, I had been flying the F-15 for 13 years straight, without a break.  I had been at Kingsley for 5 years and was comfortable.  I was about to land when I had a sudden panic—was my landing gear down or not?  I quickly looked at the light panel and saw “3 green” (down and locked), and I landed.  That day, I realized that I had become complacent, blind to my own mortality to some degree, strangely because of my proficiency/currency.  Since then, I have likened the experience to driving to work.  When I drive to work, if you asked me if I ran a red light, I would say “No, of course not,” although I have zero conscious recollection of stopping at the red lights.  I just know I shouldn’t, so of course I didn’t.  Did I put my left blinker on when it was time to turn towards the base off of Washburn?  Of course I did.  But I have no conscious memory of doing so.  That day in 2010, in an F-15, I landed successfully with my gear down and locked.  Imagine the safety board:  “Did you put the gear down?”  Of course, I always do!   I was forced to make something subconscious a very conscious thing—I needed to make sure my gear was down on a conscious level before something bad happened.  I added a new habit pattern which I use to this day.  I talk to myself in the jet.  I say out loud three times during each landing pattern:  “Gear’s down, flaps are down, landing light is on.”  I say it at 5,900’; again at 5,000’ halfway through the turn; and finally on short final before landing or low approach. 

Because I’ve been doing that part of my job (flying) so long, I have to work harder at it to some degree… simply so I don’t fall into a dangerous trap of complacency.

I’m not calling any of you complacent, but I need you to guard yourself and your squadrons and work centers against complacency.  Not just from a safety standpoint, but from an efficiency and innovation standpoint.  Why accept the status quo if there’s a better way?  I definitely need the more senior folks to reflect on this discussion.  And I need the more senior folks to be willing and ready to listen to our younger Airmen who find the courage to bring us observations, bring us ideas, bring us better ways of doing things.   We absolutely cannot shut them down.  They see things differently, and we need to slow down, listen, comprehend, and see if there’s something we can improve from their suggestions. 

Similarly, us (ahem) senior folks, need to keep our eyes open too and bring ideas to the table to make the base even better.  We can all add value; we just have to open our eyes to see the F-15 poster in the work center; to see that we stopped at the red light; to know we turned on our left turn signal; to KNOW we have the gear down.  By deliberately, consciously observing, we can see things that we otherwise wouldn’t see.  

To challenge the status quo, you have to see the status quo and reflect on it consciously.  Even if we only do this a few minutes a day, each and every one of us can make this amazing base a little bit better.  We all have different perceptions, different professional backgrounds, and different personal backgrounds.  We each see different things each day, and when we see the same things we see them differently.  Let’s all make Kingsley even better.  One observation, one idea, one step at a time. 

I’m proud to serve you and am amazed every day at what we accomplish here.  Thanks for all you do for Oregon and America.