Rabbi uses Iraq trip to help shape AF vision, values

  • Published
  • By Capt. David W. Small
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces Forward Public Affairs
Iraq was one of the first places the new adviser on Air Force values and vision went to see how Airmen apply their guiding principles in a wartime environment.

Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff, special assistant for values and visions to the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff, traveled to Southwest Asia as part of the U.S. Central Command Air Forces commanders’ and chiefs’ conference Aug. 12.

“I think the Air Force is going through a period of important transformation, from the traditional base mentality when a pilot went off toward the fight, to a time when so many of the people in the Air Force today find themselves in the position of that pilot yesterday,” Rabbi Resnicoff told commanders and chiefs.

“At a time when the whole Air Force is changing, it’s more important than ever for those within its ranks to have a coherent (values-based) vision of where we are going, and how each one of us fits into the larger picture.”

One of his responsibilities is to review Air Force values-based programs, initiatives, policies and doctrine. His focus while in theater was to garner information from the warfighters’ perspective on using values to accomplish their mission.

One observation that will help define excellence, he said, is the diversity of people fighting the war.

“In the states, people talk about diversity in terms of equal opportunity -- race, ethnicity, gender. But here, at the tip of the spear, you start to understand all the shades of its meaning -- across service lines working so closely with the Army, international lines working with the coalition, and across the components – active, Reserve, Guard and civilian,” he said.

He called the diversity of the air and space expeditionary model a strength. Now, under the AEF model with smaller, more capable packages deploying, Airmen come up with new ideas and answers -- and just as important, new questions, he said.

“Our appreciation for diversity also needs to extend to the individual,” said the rabbi who urges people deploying to identify their strengths to their counterparts before they report.

One example is Master Sgt. August Funaro, a reservist from Minneapolis who recently redeployed from the Combined Air Operations Center as a CENTAF historian. He is a university professor in his civilian job, and while deployed, he used his knowledge to teach a study skills class to Airmen of all ranks.

The challenge of leadership at every level today is not to come to a job and ask how to do it better, but to ask what the job should be, he said.

“Deployed Airmen across the theater are challenging and redefining their roles regarding the Air Force’s transforming vision,” he said. “Airmen are conducting Army convoy operations, driving gun trucks, while fighter pilots are conducting reconnaissance missions using targeting pods.

“Cold war B-52 (Stratofortresses) are providing close-air support, dropping bombs at the orders of an Airman embedded with ground forces controlling those missions. And instead of just building bigger walls, security forces are going outside the wire for force protection.”

He suggests people take these lessons learned home with them to incorporate ideas into schoolhouses for people deploying in the future.

An example of this incorporation was when the Royal Australian air force took their experience working with the U.S. Air Force during Bosnia to reorganize, reflecting the U.S. command structure for easier identification of coalition counterparts.

“Simple values such as cooperation and teamwork as a foundation for mission accomplishment can lead to a practical, structural change in the way we operate,” he said.

The rabbi also talked about the importance of training to create not merely a unified force, but a stronger, flexible, adaptable fighting force to accomplish the mission.

“When I was a line officer in Vietnam, we had race relations -- the goal was to keep from fighting each other, otherwise you can’t fight an outside enemy,” he said. “Whether you liked it or not, you had to learn to get along and become a unified force.”

It is different today, a good different, he said.

“You have to think smarter, learn from each other and the lessons everybody’s diverse background brings do the table,” Rabbi Resnicoff said.

While in Iraq, the rabbi visited the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base. At Balad, the Rabbi spoke to a Muslim lay leader who said he was a Soldier first.

“At the front, there’s probably less confusion among (servicemembers) in general than there is among civilians in the states in terms of who the enemy is,” he said of his conversation with the Soldier.

“The enemy isn’t the faith of Islam, but the terrorists who would try to claim that their faith justifies their actions. Here, you fight side by side with Iraqi Muslims against the terrorist insurgents.”

The rabbi said the Air Force does not expect people to give up their personal beliefs, but the oath Airmen take when entering the military obligates them to operate by the same core values -- the word “core” being just as important as the word “value.”

“People understand values are important, but there’s more we can teach in terms of skills and habits that show we take values seriously,” he said.

The rabbi explained how a values-base vision can be implemented based on his experience with a small group of veterans building the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. He said this helped Americans change the way they saw themselves, those who served in Vietnam, and the way they saw wars and warfighters in future conflicts.

“Those on the right didn’t want a memorial unless it glorified the war,” he said. “Those on the left didn’t want one unless it somehow made a statement that the war was wrong, and glorified the protestors.

“Instead, based on the value of honoring those who sacrificed their lives, the vision behind the monument was that it would make no statement about the war,” he said. “Instead, it would concentrate on the fact that to heal the nation, it was necessary for us to separate our feelings for the military personnel who had served, sacrificed, and even died for our nation during that war, from our feelings about the war itself.

“Those of us who serve today, including those who serve in Iraq, are the beneficiaries of that vision,” the rabbi said.

Rabbi Resnicoff said he will use his observations here to help define what the Air Force’s core values really mean, and determine if these core values are making a difference in terms of people’s decisions personally and professionally.