No matter what, character first, mission always
By Lt. Col. Erik Bowman, 1st Space Launch Squadron commander
/ Published April 09, 2009
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- As we come off a period where the wing has had five successful major launch/range operations in less than 30 days, to include a shuttle landing, I've had a little down time to reflect on the role character has played in our successes.
Character plays a major role in what we term "mission assurance." I can't tell you how many times our folks have had the courage to call a halt to an operation to make sure something bad didn't happen. This isn't always easy to do, particularly if you're a junior servicemember telling an experienced contractor or senior officer that they're violating procedures. But it's the right thing to do. Worst case, you might have to scrub for the day. The consequences of not halting the operation could be catastrophic.
But if you are a supervisor or leader, having good character yourself is insufficient. You also have to create the environment that says character is required to accomplish the mission - it's not an obstacle.
When I took over the 1st SLS, we expected my first launch to be about three months after I took command. Before launch, I needed to be certified mission ready (CMR), which is a pretty rigid certification process. I had no training prior to taking command, so this put a great deal of pressure on my folks to meet the timeline.
Some of my early training was done by a subject matter expert, but he was not a certified CMR instructor. The easy fix was to have a certified CMR instructor sign this off after the fact to avoid redoing the training and losing several weeks. Fortunately, the CMR instructor had the integrity to come to me and say that he was uncomfortable doing that. This is the type of moral courage and honesty that is a major factor in our string of successes.
Nevertheless, I was shocked - at no point did I even hint that folks should do this! I then asked myself, "Did I place so much pressure on my folks to make me 'legal' before the first launch that they felt they had to compromise their integrity?"
In the end, I was certified in time without compromising anyone's character to do so. But it served as a lesson to me. It's not enough to have character yourself - you've got to make it clear that your subordinates should never have to sacrifice their character to accomplish the mission. There is almost always a way to accomplish the mission AND be true to your character.