Thursday, March 25, 2010

General Ron Fogelman; Real Leadership

Recently, I've been thinking about leadership. Actually, I think about it all the time, a result of nearly a quarter century of military service. Over my life, I have been blessed to observe real leadership in many forms. From my Grandpa who never learned to read very well, or to write little more than his name, but taught his sons, daughters and grandchildren the value of hard work, honesty and integrity. He did this quietly through his own example. From countless junior and senior NCOs throughout the years. I remember their names and lessons, both good and bad vividly. They taught me the value and art of leadership either directly or merely through their actions. And from many junior and senior officers too numerous to mention.

However, there have always been a few standouts; those that clearly had a significant impact on my leadership style that I can pinpoint. One in particular was General Ron Fogelman, a former AF Chief of Staff. I first met then Lt Gen Fogelman in Korea. He was the 7th AF Commander, and I was an E5 Staff Sergeant working on the F-16. As the 7th CC, he didn't get to fly as much as he wanted I'm sure, but whenever he did, I was always impressed as to his approachability, willingness to find out how things were going "out on the flightline" direct from those of us who were in the middle of it, and lack of pretentiousness. He wanted the unvarnished truth of how things were going. Sure, he got briefings all the time, but usually from folks 3 or more times removed from the action, and who usually sugar-coated the info. He endured the usual pomp and circumstance that always accompanies VIPs, but he never seemed very comfortable with it. He was a tough commander but he was fair and made decisions based on what was right, not what was popular or politically correct. He took the heat for his decisions and didn't pass the buck. I even had the pleasure of meeting his wife, known as Miss Jane, during a photo op for their Christmas card. She too made an impression on me that day. She was polite and pleasant to even those of us who were mere grease monkeys. Classy is how I would describe her.

Years later, he was appointed as the AF Chief of Staff amid a bit of grumbling and controversy due to his being a rather junior General. He continued his steadfast leadership style of doing what was right and taking full responsibility for his actions. Integrity and Honor were not buzz words to General Fogelman, they were defining, unwavering commitments to him. He faced some very sensitive issues during his watch, and finally resigned a year early in what I feel is one of the most courageous acts of leadership. He faced the problems with integrating women into the cockpit of offensive aircraft, to the aftermath of the Khobar Tower bombings with distinction. From his success in the Kelly Flinn case to his resignation over the politically motivated scape-goating of Brig. Gen. Terry Schwalier for the Khobar Towers attack, General Fogelman showed what real leadership is.

I'm proud to have served with so many fine, dedicated, real leaders, and sadly watch as they seem to becoming a dying breed. I read once that the Navy used to be made up of wooden ships and iron men, but now consisted of iron ships and wooden men. I know that is not entirely true; that in today's military there are still plenty of iron men and women. However, the civilian side of the leadership equation is sadly lacking in that department. I only hope and pray that the iron men and women survive, and go on to change the paradigm of civilian leadership.

I found this article from several months ago that describes General Fogelman's resignation and compares his leadership to what happened recently with Obama's criminal (in my opinion) delay in getting needed troops to Afghanistan. Pay particular attention to General Fogelman's statement:
“As chief of staff of the United States Air Force, charged with providing military advice to the civilian leadership that the civilian leadership did not value for whatever reason, I had become ineffective as a spokesman. This was a crowd that took any kind of military advice that ran counter to administration policy or desires as a sign of disloyalty on the part of the person providing the advice. That was one element; the other was based on what I had seen and the way the Khobar Towers tragedy had been handled. I simply lost respect and confidence in the leadership that I was supposed to be following.”

Iron man.


Buck said...

My two sons and I have a recurring dialog on the state of leadership in the military today... almost ALL of which is said in confidence. I regret not having the opportunity to post some stuff I hear on my blog, but as I said... it's said in confidence. My Ol' Man used to be fond of telling me he was glad he didn't have to serve in MY Air Force, and that was 30 or 40 years ago. I often wonder what he'd think about things today. It ain't good out there... at ALL. And it's getting worse.

Rude1 said...

I know what you mean Buck, I still talk with many folks still serving and have a good idea about the status of leadership.

The scary thing is that while there are still iron men and women serving, more and more it seems they don't get to progress much past the field grade. There seems to be more crap that rises to the top than cream.

We need to get these iron men and women to step into the civilian arena and bring some REAL change to Washington.

Buckskins Rule said...

One of the compelling reasons for my decision to retire at 20 was the sad state of Naval Leadership at all levels. The creation of the Command Master Chief program had created a class of politicians within the Chief Petty Officer ranks that made me ill. Instead of taking care of the troops, they were busy taking care of their own careers.

Many of my contemporary Senior and Master Chief friends were packing up and leaving at 20 for much the same reason.

Anonymous said...

You people are in error.

Ron Fogleman refused (until Congress threatened an investigation) to discipline the F-15 jocks who downed the Black Hawks in May 1994. Next, he threw the book at the two (enlisted) troops who blundered in the 1995 Spangdahlem F-15 loss. "Dereliction of duty" seemed a smidge harsh.

He finally retired early because he failed to get his protege Terryl J. Schwalier off the hook for the Khobar Towers attack (1996).

To us lowly underlings, it looked a lot more like cronyism and whining, than leadership.

Rude1 said...

Anon, Judging by his record I will not assume to know that he "refused" to discipline anyone until he was "threatened" by Congress. I wasn't there, and I assume you weren't either. As far as the F15 crash, that "blunder" killed a man, and drove another to suicide. Dereliction of duty seems a bit mild if you ask me (and Im sure the pilots family).

As far as Schwalier goes, I've not seen anything other than accusations (from people who didn't care for Fogelman or his leadership style) to suggest he retired because he couldn't "protect his protege".

He made hard, tough calls over and over. Did he make mistakes? Hell yeah. Was he a Leader? Damn straight.

As a lowly underling myself, I saw leadership.