The Future of Our Nation is in Your Hands

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James W. Marrs
  • 217th Training Squadron Commander
"Surprise, when it happens to a government, is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that action gets lost. It includes gaps in intelligence that, like a string of pearls too precious to wear, is too sensitive to give to those who need it. It includes the alarm that fails to work, but also the alarm that has gone off so often it has been disconnected. It includes the un-alert watchman, but also the one who knows he'll be chewed out by his superior if he gets higher authority out of bed. It includes the contingencies that occur to no one, but also those that everyone assumes somebody else is taking care of. It includes straight-forward procrastination, but also decisions protracted by internal disagreement. It includes, in addition, the inability of individual human beings to rise to the occasion until they are sure it is the occasion - which is usually too late... Finally, as at Pearl Harbor, surprise may include some measure of genuine novelty introduced by the enemy, and possibly some sheer bad luck," from Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, by Roberta Wohlstetter.

There is an interesting synthesis of skill sets being taught at Goodfellow. On one hand are the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance personnel who - when their duties are best accomplished and predictive analysis properly applied - can contribute to preventing some of the worst of all possible calamities. On the other hand are the First-Responders and Incident Commanders who will be on the front lines to mitigate the impact of such calamities, should they occur. Both professions had important roles to play in the tragedies of December 7th, 1941 and September 11th, 2001.

On both dates, our nation was surprised for a number of reasons and the heroes of the day became those who mitigated the resulting disasters. Though we should always be committed to doing so, we would be naïve to think we will be able to prevent all such disasters in the future. Consider the events in November of 2009 ago at Fort Hood. After-action reports indicate that the first-responders performed their duties very well, mitigating what could have been a much worse disaster.

Some of these reports also indicate that military and civilian supervisory and intelligence personnel could have performed their duties with greater foresight and sagacity. Did standing executive policies hinder the chance of preventing such an event? No matter what policies or precedence are in place, it's up to each individual to carry out his or her duties with all diligence, clear thinking, and impartiality.

We have much to learn about the current conflict and the nature of the enemy we face. As a number of recently thwarted and successful terrorist events - both overseas and at home - have indicated, it is unlikely that bringing our troops home will solve everything. Just as with Pearl Harbor, we can never go back to the way it was before September 11th, 2001, nor should we.

We should never allow ourselves be lulled into such a state of naïveté as we were in before the attacks on New York, Washington D.C. and Flight 93. We will always need the best-possible efforts from both our ISR personnel and our first-responders to fight this conflict effectively, preserve our freedoms, and ultimately be successful in our efforts.

The front lines of this conflict stretch from the port of entry along our land, sea and air borders to helicopter landing zones in remote regions along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. The battles are fought in the aisles of airliners over Pennsylvania and along the barren foot paths of the Hindu Kush. It takes an active but disciplined mind, willing to think outside of the box but comprehending the box very well, to understand the nature of this conflict.

Here are some related challenges for you:

· Do not neglect your responsibility. Seek to define and delegate responsibilities clearly so that effective action does not get lost.

· Understand that information that is too precious, too protected, to share with those who can act upon it, is useless.

· Make sure the warning and notification systems and processes within your span of control work well and are heeded - test them appropriately and take them seriously even when you believe it's "just an exercise."

· Don't be the un-alert watchman. Don't be afraid to wake up your boss if something just doesn't seem right - and if you're the boss, don't chew out the guy who wakes you up!
· Carefully weigh all possible contingencies and plan for the worst - never assuming somebody else is taking care of them.

· Don't procrastinate when it comes to readiness. Disasters happen when you least expect them to.

· Don't let important decisions be delayed by internal disagreement. Keep focused on the mission and get it done in a timely manner.

· When the worst does happen, be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Be prepared.

· Finally, never underestimate the enemy.

I am proud to be a part of the effort to train and educate our future ISR, first-response and incident command professionals. I place the future of my children and of our nation in your most capable hands.