501st New England Garrison XO

Every year, the 501st Legion goes to the polls to elect new leadership for the group. This year, my friend Mike Brunco and I decided that we were going to run for the leadership roles, with Mike taking on the Commanding Officer position, and with me taking on the Executive Officer post.

Last night, at 7pm, Mike gave me a call and gave me the news: We'd won, and for the next year, the New England Garrison will be led under our command staff. Needless to say, we're thrilled and happy to be given the opportunity to lead the group.

Our reasons for running are mixed: we've both been troubled by levels of drama that have escalated in the group over the past year, and a lack of direction for the group as a whole. We're hoping to fix both. Interestingly, my day job has contributed to this: the past couple of years have been ones that have emphasized how an organization works, and how effective leaders lead. We're looking forward to putting some of the lessons in place. Despite our status as a volunteer organization, and that a lot of us do this sort of thing for fun, the coordination and direction for a group is a complicated, dedicated thing to undertake. We don't want to have an organization that just continues business as normal: that's a failure point for a lot of places, inside the business world and outside of it. We have a mission and passion that we want to keep going into the future, and we need to make that happen ourselves: I've no doubts that we'll be able to do that.

Lots of work in the meantime, though: we have ten days to get everything we want to do in place from a new way of bringing in recruits, putting our team together and so forth. It's going to be a good year, I think.

Good Leadership means Continued Learning: ADM Thad Allen at Norwich University

http://www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=BT&Date=20101210&Category=NEWS02&ArtNo=712109952&Ref=AR&MaxH=290&MaxW=445 Last night, Retired Admiral Thad Allen talked before a group of Norwich University students and Northfield residents for the latest entry in the Todd Lecture series, with a talk titled 'Leading Through Crisis and Times of Change'. Adm. Allen is uniquely qualified on this particular subject, having served as the person in charge for the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita cleanup just after the storm destroyed parts of New Orleans, the Haiti Earthquake and as the National Incident Commander for the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. Each disaster was an unprecedented event that warranted extraordinary response measures, and in each case, the issues that

Leadership was the focus of the talk, amongst the times when leaders were most needed to complete and correct the problems that have typically faced the country. While Allen's experiences are monumental, major disasters, much of what he had talked about were very applicable lessons for everyone: ways to confront challenges in the workplace, in the community, and if needed, on a state or national level. Over the course of its history, the country has tackled a number of challenges and problems facing it, and there is no doubt that there will be plenty more in the future. One of the key things that I've found in both my education and employment at Norwich University (more so with my employment) is that leadership is an incredibly important thing when it comes to any organization.

When Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans, Allen likened it to the effect of a weapon of mass destruction, without the criminal element, and then response to the problem. Had the city been hit with a nuclear weapon or something that could produce a similar effect, a vastly different response would have been put together. A key element in leadership is the people in place who can reconcile both competency and opportunity in the face of a situation while seeking the appropriate outcome. The major issue with the Katrina disaster was that the people in charge of the recovery at first didn't understand what the problem was. There was a broken link between understanding what the priorities were, and applying the resources accordingly. When he arrived eight days after the storm, a different problem had to be tackled, with authorities operating without a clear chain of command. They broke the city up into different sections, with various organizations such as the Marines and 82nd Airborne taking control of specific tasks. First responder teams worked to provide logistical, security and rescue support for each house in the city, with the members of these teams given the authority to work under the Mayor of the city.

The thing that struck me the most was how much of leadership consisted of problem solving, and just how profound the realization was that problems changed dramatically while they're playing out, and that the best response often comes beforehand, with people under one's command / supervision who can be used to deal with problems as they arise. When it came to Haiti, Allen likened it to Katrina on a much larger scale, and with other, additional problems. While the country's leaders had survived, the UN mission found itself without leadership when their building collapsed, causing problems interfacing between the country and the rest of the world. As what had been found during the Katrina response, a clear, unified command wasn't present in the country. Many of the lessons that were learned during Katrina were applied in the response to Haiti, to the effect of where U.S. command and control infrastructure was packed up into a C-140 and flown down.

Haiti was devastated, and once again, relief efforts had to utilize the resources at hand. Port du Prince was destroyed, Allen said, due to engineering and the magnitude of the quake, cutting off the only major way to receive large amounts of materials. As a result, the air space was restricted, and a large-scale effort was put into place to bring in supplies by air. At the peak of the air operations, 160 flights per day were landing, helped by several years of work from the 1st Air Force and lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. NGOs on the ground were also used, because the people on the ground knew the people that they were delivering relief to: a human response to the human problems was needed, and helped in a lot of ways.

The next major issue was the one that is still in the news: the Gulf Oil Spill. Allen was very clear on a couple of points: despite the controversy over BP’s role in the spill, his attention was on the parts that needed to be taken care of right away: containing the spill, capping the well and killing it. Despite the fact that the oil company had a hand in the disaster, they made incredible efforts to kill it, and faced enormous technical and engineering problems that resembled more of Apollo 13 than the Exxon Valdez.

Additionally, there wasn’t an apparent role for the federal government: this started off as a private sector problem, and BP wasn’t seen as a responsible party because they weren’t answerable to the general public.

The oil spill was incredibly complicated. The spill had to be stopped, and three missions emerged: the technical problems with stopping hot hydrocarbons gushing out at 12,000 psi into a cold environment, an oil spill on the surface that changed every day with the wind, and protecting the coastlines. The scale of this disaster dwarfed the response plans currently in place, and was so different (aimed towards something along the lines of a tanker spill than a blow out) that it required a new way of thinking. Once the response came under way, a massive job was undertaken to coordinate the efforts: all efforts needed to be coordinated in order to bring about the best results: boats on the water cleaning oil and the shorelines, and when an organization becomes complex in ways such as this, some things break down.

One thing was transparency, which Allen noted was essential in this day and age. People are armed with cameras, social media, and are willing to use them, and in this instance, while responsible parties can work on coordination and delegation, people on the ground need to be included, with the assurances that what they’re doing will be backed up by the people in charge. A transparent organization works the best, because it tends to be self-correcting. It was noted that the decision to put up cameras was a positive one, because people could see what was going on, and when things were starting to get better. Requests to put a time delay on the video were denied, because it would damage perceptions that the company and cleanup efforts were honest and doing what they were supposed to.

Coming out of these three disasters, Allen imparted several key things when it came to leadership. The first is that anyone can be a better leader, and that the best leaders never stop learning. They continue to learn and adapt to the situation, and from prior disasters or incidents, lessons can be learned. Lessons 9/11 informed Katrina, which informed Haiti, which in turn informed the Gulf Oil Response.

Second, leaders cannot lead from the top down, the bottom up or from the center: they lead from everywhere. The human element of any response is a key thing, and people who are working to address a problem need to be empowered to do their jobs, with someone backing them up from the top. According to Allen: “To be a better leader, you must become a better person,”

What strikes me as most relevant to these points is not that they are only applicable to major disasters, but to any number of instances that most people face, and the key to this talk was that leadership can be found everywhere, in everyone: people need to recognize when actions are needed, by managing the appropriate resources available in the proper way.

What struck me the most was how focused Adm. Allen was throughout the talk, especially when he spoke about social media and the 24/7 newscycle that we now have in the country. They key element seems to be to adapt and work with people on the ground who want to help, but to remain focused on the task at hand, regardless of perceptions, pundits and political elements who have their own agendas. His view of BP clashed with the perceptions of the public and that of the media, and while he noted that they had their own issues in their image, they approached the problem with the best of intentions where it was needed: without the resources and expertise that BP provided and applied to the spill, the crisis would have been much worse.

In the future, he noted, there needs to be a better doctrine to shift from short-term solutions to long term recovery for places such as Katrina, Haiti and the Gulf, which in and of itself will require new ways of thinking about problems. In the meantime, lessons need to be learned for how to tackle the next unforeseen problem that will face the country: natural disasters, attacks, industrial mistakes, and so forth are all possibilities, and the only sure solution will be someone who can find an effective way to recognize the problems and apply the proper response needed. Such effective leaders should empower those under their supervision, and will be ones who will learn from the experiences and lessons of the past.

Droning On

One of the significant elements of the ongoing 'War on Terror' in Afghanistan and Iraq is the continual use of Predator Drones, and other unmanned systems that allow for the remote control of weapons to minimize casualties amongst American forces overseas, while still achieving their objectives. Interestingly, the soldiers who pilot them have been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) , essentially experiencing warfare in similar ways, despite operating in vastly different conditions.

According to Military.com: "But that whiplash transition is taking a toll on some of them mentally, and so is the way the unmanned aircraft's cameras enable them to see people getting killed in high-resolution detail, some officers say." (Source) This is further explained at the relatively up close and personal view that soldiers piloting the Drones get of the action, as opposed to that of a fighter pilot, far above the action, who might not see the impact that their actions have.

The situation that these pilots find themselves in bears much resemblance to some of the actions in Orson Scott Card's classic Science Fiction novel, Ender's Game. In this book, Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin, is training aboard an orbital facility, designed to bring out the best tactical leaders in a fight against an alien race. At the last act of the book, Ender has graduated from school, and tasked with what he believes are further training simulations against the aliens, when in reality, he is directing military assets, time and time again against the alien's defenses, destroying them at the end. Upon realizing what he's done, he has a sort of nervous breakdown, and while hailed as a hero, moves to live a secluded life off planet.

Now, in 2010, we are living in what a lot of people would consider a fantastical, science fiction-styled world, where computers fit in the palm of one's hand, and where militaries have the ability to strike against militants and foreign militaries with fairly automated devices. A 2009 book, Wired for War, by P.W. Singer, of the Brookings Institute, looks closely to the developments of military hardware in warfare, and looks to the very nature of automated weapons and the extent to where people will be in control of said weapons. The machines that go to war now are not the machines of science fiction literature and films: they're more like remote controls, with a person 'in the loop' at the end of the communications console, who directs the craft against targets and basic functions. The move to a more robotic system will occur as the human controllers are released from more controls, with a computer that's able to take over more functions. Some robotic systems, such as the ones that are designed to shoot mortars out of the sky, can react much faster than a human operator, and in order to effectively operate, they are more automated. Some drones can largely act on their own, with their mission programmed into them, with a human looking to push the button to start it up.

However, like in Ender's Game, operators are still on the front lines, abit virtually, carrying out their commander's intent and subsequent orders in a way that helps to deliver their mission, much like soldiers on the ground, operating in ways that might not be as appropriate for drones. At the end of the day, however, there is a central mission that needs to be carried out, issued by a commanding officer, whereupon, the details of the mission should be carried out in the most appropriate manner. This often depends upon the quality of the leader at the top, the resources that are available at their disposal, and the abilities of the people underneath them to carry them out. In this way, the story of Ender's Game and that of a Drone Pilot could easily be reconciled with one another. The same can often be said for any other military science fiction book out there, and the quality of the novel or film will not depend upon the technology that is present, but the world surrounding military events.

This is why, when reading about Predator Drones, I'm reminded of the events that take place in Ender's Game. The specific technology, governments and people don't necessarily matter in these contexts, but the framework laid out and put together in a largely rational and logical fashion endures, lasting far longer than technological predictions that will likely date the book. As such, Ender's Game is an interesting read in the science fiction universe, and has applications during the present day. Indeed, a number of these lessons can be applied, no matter the time period and technology present: ancient Roman militaries would act in the same general way that a modern commander would: locate the problem, determine a mission, find the right way to overcome said problem and execute a plan to achieve one's goals.

However, what does change, is the methods in which soldiers interact with the battlefield. In the instance of Drone pilots and Andrew Wiggin, both deal with the realities of war remotely and virtually. Indeed, one of the biggest issues that one might face with operating said machinery would be the emotional impact and power associated with the ability to strike without reprisal. As the battlefield becomes more automated, warfare becomes fare more effective, cleaner, and potentially quicker, at least on the tactical level. Yet, soldiers are still at war.

In the end, Drone warfare is essentially another tool available for military commanders, and as such, the soldiers who operate them will come under the same stresses, conflicts and moral issues as any other soldier assigned to a mission. This circumstances change as soldiers are further removed from the battlefield, but it should be remembered that despite the distance from the actual conflict, there will still be repercussions, as these soldiers fall within far larger strategy and operational plans, and are thus still at war, as has been carried out for thousands of years.

Leadership and Apollo 13

40 years ago yesterday, on April 13th, 1970, an onboard explosion crippled the Apollo 13 spacecraft's service module, forcing the ground crew and astronauts to abandon their original mission of landing on the moon. The story is a well known one, second only to the Apollo 11 mission and still resonates for the actions that occurred over the next week as all involved worked to bring the crew home alive. The successful return of the crew underscored the importance of organization, leadership and innovation on the part of NASA, and remains one of the best examples of the traits to this day.

On April 11th, the Apollo 13 mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral, headed towards the Fra Mauro formation, which was rich in geological significance, with a number of hills and meteor craters. Shortly after liftoff, the mission experienced its first problem with a premature shutdown of one of the main engines, but with a longer burn from the four remaining engines, the spacecraft was able to make it to space and on its way. The far better known disaster that befell the crew occurred two days later when the crew stirred the oxygen and hydrogen tanks onboard the ship, causing a short in a wire, thus detonating the tank, causing damage to the Service Module. With depleted oxygen, the crew had to shut down their fuel cells to conserve electricity, and used their Lunar Module as a lifeboat to survive the trip home. Mission Control on Earth decided that the crew would be better off by using a free-return trajectory (allowing the Moon's gravity to pull the ship around and back in the proper direction) in order to return. In addition to their problems with power and returning home, the crew was forced to improvise a device that would allow them to filter out the carbon dioxide from the ship's atmosphere. Despite the challenges that faced them, the crew returned to Earth and landed safely.

The Apollo 13 mission has long been a triumph of NASA, not just because of its successes in returning a crippled spaceship to Earth, but because it represents one of the best examples of leadership and ingenuity on the part of a massive organization in order to accomplish an almost impossible task. Oftentimes, these sorts of examples are seen amongst military operations: the Apollo 13 mission is a rare, highly public example of this in the civilian world.

The steps taken on the part of leadership were clearly laid out. The crew and ground teams had to first determine what the problem was - initially, the crew feared that they had been hit by a micrometeorite, but determined the problem shortly thereafter. From that point, they determined the steps to stabilize the spaceship, and ruled out the main mission objective: landing on the moon, and then were forced to work out exactly how the crew would be returning home. What makes Apollo 13 a good example of leadership lies in the successes of bringing the crew back: the clear objective in this instance was to prevent the death of the crew, and highlights a sort of 'Commander's Intent' directive where the leaders of Mission Control, namely Gene Kranz, the lead flight director. From his position, he directed the people underneath his command to come up with solutions to the numerous problems, acting as an intermediary, collecting information and making a decision based on what he knew at the time. The responsibilities of the people below him were with specific issues: determining the extent of the problem, then the solution to either fixing it, or minimizing its impact on the event. These items included the supply of oxygen and trying to figure out exactly how to conserve power because of a reduction in supply, how to scrub the CO2 out of the ship's atmosphere, how to accomplish burns and ultimately, bring the crew home safely. The end result was the return of Jim Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise. They owe their lives to good organization and leadership on the part of NASA and the flight control teams.

In the end, the crew received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their actions, and the Fra Mauro highlands were visited in the next mission, Apollo 14, crewed by Alan Shepard (The United State's first astronaut into space), Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell.

The sequence of events and actions that were taken demonstrate leadership in moments where the consequences were most dire. However, the lessons that can be learned from the event, such as identifying problems and then identifying their solutions, delegating to other team members and trusting their findings and conclusions, while fitting all of these elements together into the framework of an overall mission are essential traits that can be applied to any number of practices outside of space travel, any place where there are numerous, organized people. While the consequences might not be dire in all instances, having proper leadership and organization is essential to achieving an eventual goal.