Wednesday, April 19, 2006

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part IX: “Selfless Service” by Terry Schwalier

As I conceived of this series, addressing the transition from military leadership to business leadership, I wanted to be sure that all four branches of the military were represented in the articles that would be written. I also wanted to ensure that we would cover a broad range of military leadership experience – all the way from those who had left the military as junior officers (JMO’s) to those who had attained the status of general officer or “flag officer.” With today’s article about “Service Above Self,” we complete the cycle on both counts. Terry Schwalier represents the U.S. Air Force, and had responsibilities as a Brigadier General when he retired from the Air Force to enter the business world.

There is a nice tie-in between General Schwalier’s approach to describing “Selfless Service,” and that of Kelly Perdew’s approach to this topic. In “Take Command,” Kelly leads off Chapter Nine – “Selfless Service: Give Back” – with a discussion of his experience as a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In the article below, General Schwalier evokes the person and life of Jesus Christ as one example of “Selfless Service.” In each case, Kelly and Terry have demonstrated the validity and courage of applying the values of personal faith to the challenges of public leadership responsibilities.

* * * *

In the mid-90’s, then Air Force Chief of Staff Ron Fogleman identified Service above Self as one of the Air Force’s three core values. He called it the “price of admission” in becoming an Air Force member. By codifying Service above Self as a core value in a national cultural environment that seemed to emphasize self above all else, General Fogleman reminded us of what young men and women volunteering to join America’s profession of arms have committed to do.
Daily fatality counts in the War on Terror underscore the seriousness of that commitment.

Service above Self has, of course, a much broader application. Role models come from all walks of life. Our history is filled with meaningful examples. I’ll mention a few that have had a profound and personal impact…men and women whose focus was on making things better for others - men and women who have lived a truly meaningful life.

In chronological order, I start with my parents - two people who sacrificed to give me opportunities. My mom worked a second job so I could take the lessons and have the equipment to learn the lessons of growing up. Both gave me the gift of their time and patient wisdom. I still reflect on the answer my dad gave to my childhood question, “Why did you join the Air Force?” “Because it’s the big league” was a perfect response to a 10-year-old – and one that has deepened in meaning as the years have passed.

My wife Dianne comes next. In our 37 years together, Dianne, above all others on this earth, has shown me the honor, and the significance, of being a servant. Her countless hours of caring for the welfare and growth of her family over these many years have resulted in a husband, children and grandchildren who adore her. Her “I can always sleep later” attitude when helping others continues to humble us. Proverbs 31 describes her well. We respect her.
Referring to Proverbs and what the books of the Old Testament foretell, introduces my next Service above Self role model: Jesus Christ. In considering the meaning of the Easter celebration this past week, I am again assured that there is no better role model of Service above Self - no better example to follow.

Over the years, friends, mentors, and heroes have also helped shape the meaning of Service above Self for me. During my early years as an Air Force officer, I watched the conduct of our Prisoners of War in North Vietnam…men such as John Stockdale, Robbie Risner, Bud Day and John McCain…men who continued to serve in the face of torture and death. In each case, yielding to their captors’ demands would have made things easier. In each case, these men chose the harder road. Their actions exemplified Service above Self.

Throughout my Air Force career, I was blessed with bosses who well understood the Service above Self core value. Men who focused and acted based on what they understood Service above Self to be…not on what they thought would get them promoted. In 1985 at Torrejon Air Base in Spain, I served a wing commander, John Fryer, who understood the importance of mentoring as a way of serving. Although mentoring took time out of busy days and activities that were measured and compared in terms of that day’s operational readiness, John was giving beyond himself to serve the future. He continues to do that today as the superintendent of schools in a major Florida city. And I continue to be grateful for his example.

A few years after codifying Service above Self, General Ron Fogleman, lived out that core value. In July 1997, following events and reactions that occurred during the first six months of a new Secretary of Defense’s tenure, General Fogleman, as an unprecedented move in the Air Force’s 50-year history, announced his retirement a year before the completion of his expected tenure. In explaining his actions, Fogleman wrote "My values and sense of loyalty to our soldiers, sailors, Marines and especially our airmen led me to the conclusion that I may be out of step with the times and some of the thinking of the establishment. This puts me in an awkward position. If I were to continue to serve as chief of staff of the Air Force and speak out, I could be seen as a divisive force and not a team player. I do not want the Air Force to suffer for my judgment and convictions." Clearly, General Fogleman understood Service above Self…and lived his conviction.
I began this blog input on Service above Self by suggesting that the daily fatality count in America’s War on Terror underscores the seriousness of the selfless commitment our young men and women make when volunteering to enter our Nation’s armed forces. I’ll end with two more role model examples from this continuing battle against terrorism. The first centers on my 1968/1969 roommate from the US Air Force Academy, PK Carlton.

During the 911 attack on the pentagon, PK – a lieutenant general and the Air Force’s Surgeon General at the time - was at a senior staff meeting in the building. His immediate reaction was to go directly to the area of intrusion, assess the initial medical response, and begin saving lives. PK, along with a small medical team who had joined him, entered the furthermost reaches of the destruction to find and help the victims…and stayed until walls and ceilings weakened by the explosions began to fail. On later learning of PK’s actions, I was not surprised. That was who PK Carlton is. It’s also why I have been blessed to have him as a friend -- and a Service above Self role model.

The second involves a story told by my son, Erik, who is finishing up his fourth year of medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. In this past year, I’ve learned that a fourth year medical student’s life evolves around “rotations” where he spends 4-6 weeks learning from, and being observed by, attending physicians providing patient care. Many of these “rotations” have involved dealing with injured young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. My son and I talk frequently about his encounters…and rarely with dry eyes as he describes – again and again – how impassioned these young men and women are to “get back to the fight” or to “get back to their unit.”

In the confusion of politics and political maneuvering, these are young Americans who, clearly, understand the significance…and the potential cost…of Service above Self.

We can dearly learn from them.

Terry Schwalier, Brig Gen, USAF (retired)

* * * *
Thank you, Terry.

In giving us his list of those whose approach to Service above Self he admires, Terry mentions John McCain and other Prisoners of War. There is a book that I recommend enthusiastically that enlarges upon the prisoner of war experience of John McCain, et al. “The Nightingale’s Song,” by Robert Timberg, is one of the finest books I have read that blends military and political themes. It follows the careers of McCain, Bud McFarlane, Ollie North, John Poindexter and James Webb through their labyrinthine journeys from Annapolis to Viet Nam to the Reagan White House to the Iran Contra scandal. It is compelling reading.

* * * *

This series will conclude next week with . . . .

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part X: “Integrity” by Mark Thaller

No comments: