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A call for unification

Arnold AFB, Tenn. --

Both the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, united our great nation. As our military organized to respond to those vicious attacks, clear communication from leaders in government and private industry helped every American understand their individual role to contribute to the mission at hand and drove a change in workplace cultures. This contributed to our success in protecting our allies, protecting political interests abroad, and defeating our enemies.

Similarly, NASA’s mission to land on the moon resonated with everyone. There’s a story about John F. Kennedy touring Cape Canaveral in the early 60s. During the tour he saw a janitor and stopped to speak with him. JFK asked the janitor what it was he did at NASA, and the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” NASA created a culture that tied everyone to the mission and that permeated to every level in the organization. Contractors that were vital to the success of the Apollo program did the same. Everyone was united in a common goal regardless of who signed their check, and as a result the Apollo program was a tremendous success.

The majority of employees at AEDC are far removed from the end users of the weapon systems we support through test and evaluation. Most of what we do is shrouded in secrecy with only a few people having insight to the big picture. Many of the systems under test won’t be known by the general public for a decade or more, so how do we create a culture like NASA had during the space race? How do we bring people together like we do during times of war when we cannot wait for another war to unite us? It starts with clear communication explaining what we’re fighting for and why.

Col. Jeffrey Geraghty started the communication process during the strategic planning meeting in October. In preparation for the meeting, Geraghty required us to review two documents: the Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, or NDS, viewable at https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf, and the Jan. 29 testimony of Elbridge Colby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, viewable at https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Colby_01-29-19.pdf. Both of these documents are available online, and I encourage everyone to take an hour to read each thoroughly.

In 2018, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis shifted the focus of National Security from terrorism to competition between great powers with the release of the 2018 NDS. China and Russia pose the greatest threat to the United States and its allies. For decades we’ve had an overwhelming military advantage, but that advantage has eroded with time. Our adversaries have developed and continue to develop new weapons that challenge, and in many cases, exceed our capability to defend our political and economic interests.

As written, the NDS provides clear guidance for AEDC. It provides us an opportunity to play an instrumental role in preventing conflict with our adversaries by doing what we do best. Our contribution to national security is the test and evaluation of weapon systems that hold our adversaries in check and provide the United States of America and its allies an effective defense against China and Russia’s latest offensive weapons.

We often say that the warfighter is the tip of the spear and we provide the spear. In this great power competition AEDC is the warfighter and the spear. That includes all of us: contractors, military and Department of Defense civilians alike. We must all work together, though it won’t be easy. It requires patience and persistence on all ends as we work through issues with budget constraints, manpower constraints, slow IT networks, and anything else standing in the way of our success. Additionally, it requires clear communication from leaders at every level. Finally, it requires everyone to hold themselves and others accountable to do more of the things that are traceable to the goals and objectives of the NDS and less of the things that are not. Hold your leadership accountable to communicate, lead, and make decisions that are supported by our current strategy. Let’s unite in our effort to be “Second To None!”