Leadership Lessons: No Money, No Mission

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Christopher Elworth
  • 319th Comptroller Squadron
When looking down at the long list of Air Force Specialty Codes during my third year of ROTC to pick my future job, I was only looking at one: Pilot. Not only did I not know much about any other AFSCs or even what a comptroller was, but through my ignorance I believed that if I did not become a pilot I would be on the second tier, a second class officer.

I am now thankful I am a comptroller and I have realized how vital my job is to the mission. If you do not know what it is, the Merriam-Webster definition of a comptroller is "a person who is in charge of the financial accounts of a company or organization." More or less, a comptroller is the CFO of an organization. So not only is my job important, but the Air Force has entrusted me and my team with almost $100 million and the livelihood of more than 2,000 Airmen and their families. If I don't do my job, and do it well, it will make everyone else's job to accomplish the mission that much harder or even impossible.

Two of my favorite quotes, from Martin Luther King Jr. and John W. Gardner, talk about the importance every job and can be incorporated into the Air Force culture.

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well'." - Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote reminds me of the third and what I believe to be the most important of the Core Values: "Excellence in All We Do." Your current job is the most important job in the Air Force. No matter if you are simply handing out towels at the fitness center or fixing a toilet; doing your job, and doing it well, is the most important thing right now. Even if I am doing something as simple as helping an Airman file a travel voucher for a three-day TDY, I am putting all of my effort into that one voucher.

"We must learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity, however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water." - John W. Gardner, author and leader

When stationed at a base like Grand Forks, there are few Airmen who see anything other than the day-to-day base level ops of the Air Force's big-picture mission. It is difficult to understand the 'why' in what we do, especially for first term Airmen here at Grand Forks, but you must look at the bigger picture, toward the tip of the spear.

Believe me, I don't jump out of bed every morning looking forward to getting on an Airman to pay off the balance on their GTC or to create a TDY order, or to move some money around from fund cite to fund cite. I do it for what happens when I get that job done. I do it to ensure Captain Alpha is ready to go to Guam to fly missions, to secure our interests and security in the Pacific or so Senior Airman Bravo can concentrate on his job during his deployment to the Middle East because he knows we will be here to take care of his family while he is gone. And I do it so Lt Col Ledford and the Civil Engineering Squadron have all of the resources they need to continue the upkeep and improve this base's infrastructure for all of us. Without money, none of that would be possible.

This idea can be transferred to any job on base. The mission can't get done without any of our support jobs, from the humblest of jobs, such as the plumbers or Fitness Center staff, to the cops at the gate and the specialists managing our contracting program.

A fellow comptroller, Master Sgt. Davis stationed at Peterson AFB, gave a speech at a Joint Finance Exercise earlier this year about one of his heroes, Senior Master Sgt. Reilly, a special operations Airmen. Reilly is a Purple Heart and Silver Star recipient for his actions on April 11, 2005 on a mountain in Afghanistan when he provided lifesaving medical care to his wingman, controlled aircraft fires, and provided suppressive fire for almost three hours while being wounded.  Davis asked Reilly what message he would have for the Finance community. Davis described the answer he received as warrior poetry. An excerpt from his reply is below:

"I discuss all of the things that I was trained to do, the equipment I had on my body (weapons, radio, etc.) and the incredible amount of training and money it took to get me to the fight. I discuss the assets I had overhead and the support and training for all of those aircraft to arm, launch and fly, along with all of the infrastructure to support sustained operations, and then continue following the chain back to nearly every job in the Air Force. It's easy to do because war is what we are organized for, people just lose sight of the bigger picture. It's hard to feel like a warfighter when you are never exposed to the fighting, but that is exactly the value of having a powerful military, the more people we get out of harm's way, the more successful we will be. Everything leads to the pointiest tip of the spear."

The lowest man on the ground gave Reilly the things he needed to get his job done.  Everything I have talked about above can be said about any job in the Air Force, at any location, even Grand Forks. It is hard to see the bigger picture when you only focus on what happens here, but I don't think the impact we all have could have been described any better than how Reilly stated it above. No matter what your job currently is, I challenge you to see the bigger picture, the 'why.' Ask Chief Duncan or Colonel Hernandez about what they have seen in their combined 55 years in the Air Force, ask an Airman who has deployed what they have done, or take the Scope of the Mission tour to see all of the great things we do here. You may not see it at the operational base level at Grand Forks AFB but everything you do supports the Air Force's mission all over the globe. Without Airmen like you and me, and about $140,064,000,000 of taxpayer dollars, there would be no mission.