An Airman's thoughts on the 4th of July

  • Published
  • By Col. Stacey Hawkins
  • 10th Air Base Wing commander
This weekend, as we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this great nation, it's worthwhile to reflect on just how courageous the signers of the Declaration of Independence were in standing against the tyranny of their day toward the pursuit of liberty.

The 56 signers were truly forward thinkers: well educated, of secure financial means, and filled with entrepreneurial spirit. Twenty-four were attorneys, 11 were businessmen and nine were farmers. Their self-determinism, independence of thought and empowered individualism, fueled the American Revolution and persists within our national culture even today.

Since its birth in 1947, the Air Force has also tapped into the same principles espoused by the Declaration's signers. During the past 67 years, we've grounded our service ethos with an air-minded approach to winning America's wars abroad and defending our beloved homeland.

Like the founders' uncompromising pursuit of liberty and justice, American Airmen have always been equally firm in their relentless pursuit to own and exploit the high ground. Whether through air, space or cyberspace, mission superiority has been the standard of measure when engaging adversaries. We believe an Air Force is most consequential on the battlefield when possessing 360-degree situational awareness, freedom of movement, reliable command and control and empowered decentralized execution. These airpower tenets are in many ways connected to the precepts of the founding fathers that also thirsted for expansive freedom, liberty and justice. These ideological threads, woven through the core of air-minded thought throughout the 21st Century, shape who we are as the world's greatest airpower.

So why does this air-mindedness matter at all? It starts with our own founding father of American airpower, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell. After World War I, Mitchell espoused in his famous book, "Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Modern Air Power -- Economic and Military," the viability of an air force was inextricably tied to the economic wealth, ceaseless innovation and assertive political will of a nation. These foundational national attributes fuel today's innovative Airmen to create and improvise in a way challenging established conventions within the profession of arms. Airmen have always served as nimble disrupters, sparking evolution and revolution in warfare.

The nexus between globalization and modernity has propelled air-minded thinking more than ever before. As humans become more connected through social media, cyber technology and air-enabled transportation efficiencies, governmental systems and supporting networks have become more volatile, ambiguous and complex. Airmen are well-equipped to thrive in this new world order because air-mindedness promotes systems thinking, effects driven goals and mitigation of unintentional consequences. Airmen are acculturated to think boundlessly and creatively on ways employing speed, range and flexibility to protect friends, neutralize adversaries and project national interests across the globe and into space and cyber frontiers.

Air-mindedness contains a social science component, shaping how Airmen think about global affairs. Like the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Airmen value human dignity and recognize the horror warfare brings to civilized societies. To this end, American Airmen have always leapt to ease human suffering, liberate the persecuted, rescue the distressed and inform the isolated. The full spectrum capability, possessed by today's air battlefield commander, to see the enemy, hear what he's saying, tell others about him and employ actions against him, is unique to Airmen whose operational combat approach starts and ends with producing effects from the high ground with maximum efficiency and minimal loss of human life.

The history leading up to the signing and eventual issuing of the Declaration of Independence, details the unique equity, trust and openness between the delegates of the Continental Congress. Lively, often terse but constructive critique was accepted among delegates while crafting the ideas and tone of the foundational document of the new nation. The retirement of the hierarchical traditions of England demanded all members of the Continental Congress freely express misgivings or shout approval. This circus-like chaos brought order to the Congress, ultimately resulting in near-consensus to the final declaration statement. This chaos-to-order theme exists among Airmen who are very comfortable unpacking complex problems and innovating their way toward unorthodox solutions. Airmen thrive when the problem is new and case studies are few. This mindset fosters open, honest and critical intellectual feedback without constraint of rank, position or privilege of a particular organization. From directing safety imperatives to participating in mission debrief sessions, Airmen speak out against mediocrity, inequality and mission risk. This is only achieved by building strong networks with key supporting agencies, constituents and customers. Like the signers, today's Airmen understand the importance of facilitating bottom-up communication, fostering an innovative culture and embracing out-of-the-box thinking.

This weekend will be relaxing for most as we enjoy the company of loved ones, seasonal weather and tasty Fourth of July vittles known as "burgers and dogs" but, as American Airmen, we are indebted to our national and Air Force founders for their collective entrepreneurship, innovation and grit forming the DNA of our magnificent institution. Modern-day Air Force air-mindedness dates back to America's late 18th Century national ethos of building a society free to think, thrive and live without threat of the tyranny of autocratic rule.

It's refreshing to know we live in a country where citizens are dedicated to preserving these ideals and whose Airmen are duty-bound to defending them across the globe.