Who Are You?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala -- It is a great question. For us old-timer's, it's the title of a popular song composed by Pete Townsend and became the title track of The Who's 1978 album, Who Are You.

So, who are you? What defines you? What identifies you? When you tell someone you're in the Air National Guard, what does that mean? Why do we have the Air National Guard? What is its purpose? Why are you a member of the Air National Guard? What makes us unique among the reserve components? What is our origin? Have you ever thought about these questions? Who are you?

We trace our heritage all the way back to the first regiments of the Militia which were organized in Massachusetts on December 13, 1636. We also trace our origins to the United States Constitution. Article 1 of the United States Constitution outlines the legislative powers and authorities of Congress. The National Guard, (formerly the Militia), gets its authority from Congress via the "Militia Clause" found in Article 1, Section 8. 

"To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;"

Some National Guard aviation units can trace their heritage back to before World War I but the Air National Guard actually came into being on September 18, 1947. On this date, the Air Force broke from the US Army to become a separate military service as directed by the National Security Act of 1947.

So, who are we as a reserve component of the USAF? I think the USAF mission statement defines that succinctly: "The mission of the United States Air Force is to fly, fight and win...in air, space and cyberspace."

But, who are we as the Air National Guard? The National Guard is unique among the reserve components in that we have a dual mission - federal and state. The Director, Air National Guard says it this way, "The ANG is the first choice for homeland operations, a proven choice for the war fight, and an enduring choice for security cooperation (building and maintaining domestic and international partnerships).

Who are you as a member of the Air National Guard? When you tell someone you're in the Air Guard, what does that mean? Why do you serve? Is it service to country, patriotism, family heritage or some other reason? Do the Air Force core values help guide you? Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.

Why do you serve? Who are you?

So, who am I? Here are three examples that help guide me as a leader. The first two are leadership failures that cost the lives of many men. They help remind me that military leadership is serious business.  The third example is part of my heritage. All of these help me answer "Who are you?"

The first is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson written after a battle between a British light brigade and Russian artillery in the Crimean War in 1854.  To set the scene, the British commander intended to pursue a retreating Russian artillery battle but due to miscommunication in the chain of command, the light brigade made a frontal assault on a different artillery battery that was well prepared for the attack. Here is the second verse from the poem: 

 "Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

My next example is General George A. Custer and The Battle of the Little Bighorn. On the hot afternoon of June 25, 1876 on a hill above the Little Bighorn River, Custer and 5 companies of the 7th Calvary Regiment were overwhelmed by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. 268 men were killed and 55 injured. 

I walked this battlefield in Montana in the summer of 2014. I studied the bad assumptions and tactical errors that Custer made that day. Just one example is that Custer had been offered the use of Gatling guns but declined them thinking they would slow him down.

My third example is a painting of the 4th Alabama Regiment at the 1st Battle of Manassas. This painting is hanging in my office.  It reminds me of my great, great grandfather who served with the 15th Alabama Regiment during the Civil War. I'm fairly certain he was with his regiment at Little Round Top. I have walked the Gettysburg battlefield and wondered what it was like for my great, great grandfather during that decisive battle against Col Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine Regiment. 

A lot of good men fought and died during the Civil War for both the Union and the Confederacy. My great, great grandfather was later killed near Chattanooga, TN at the Battle of Chickamauga.  No matter what you or I think about the Civil War, this is part of my heritage and helps me answer the question "Who are you?"

While most days we're making decisions about routine things like funding a program or who's going on the next deployment, we have to be prepared to lead and make decisions that could possibly have much more serious implications. That's part of being a military leader and that's part of who I am.

Who are you?
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