Washington Air National Guard.

1985 - 1993 Paine Field, WA - 215 Engineering Installation Squadron

In early 1985, I received a notice from the Washington Air National Guard that it was looking for a "few good men." I said that I was a "few good men," shaved off my beard, and went in to see them.

They made some comments about the flying unit being on the other side of the mountains, the fact that it was 105% manned and that there was a waiting list to get in, and that they had concerns about my ability to maintain currency since I didn't fly for the airlines.

I told them that I wasn't interested in flying, so they asked me what I wanted to do. I told them, "I'm an electrical engineer." Their response was, "OH!" A couple of months later, I was in.

I was assigned to the 215th as the Officer in Charge of Engineering. The squadron was a high-performance team. We not only engineered projects proficiently, but our installers were sought after world-wide. We would often get projects installed in a matter of weeks where active duty units worked months. Because of this, the squadron got the "contract" to install all of the fiber optic cable in Saudi Arabia. Any active duty unit could have done this, but they wanted US.

The force behind this was not only good training, but good teamwork sponsored by good leadership. In 1985, few people heard about Deming outside of Japan. Few people knew what TQM stood for (before the term and the concept became abused). We practiced it. Washington State was one of a handful of states to pilot the concept of TQM for the National Guard, and the 215th was the unit the others in the State benchmarked.

The 215th was my "finishing school." After the 215th, it was time for me to teach as well as learn.

1993 - 1994 Air Staff, Washington Air National Guard

I got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and out of my slot as the OIC of Engineering, so I was drafted to the air staff while awaiting other assignment. I was assigned the duty of Senior Quality Advisor. My responsibility was to develop a training program for the 2500 Air Guardsmen in the state, and to assist my counterparts with the 7500 Army Guardsmen.

I remember a barstool conversation with the general in charge of the Army side of the house. He was lamenting the fact that they were experiencing a 33% annual turnover rate. In exasperation he turned to me and asked, "Why are my soldiers leaving?" My response was "Has anyone asked the soldiers?" He looked at me blankly for about 60 seconds and I wound up working with the Command Sergeant Major on a soldier retention project. We cut the turnover rate to 25% (a 20% improvement) in the first year.

I was also responsible for facilitating the meeting of the Air Staff. In other words, to get the generals and colonels talking in the same direction. The first meeting was a disaster. It lasted all day, and nothing was resolved as the brass were talking about how to fix fuel pumps in the KC-135.

I finally had them convinced that there were sergeants that were far more capable than they were when it came to fixing fuel pumps and that we could accomplish more if we triaged problems into four areas:

1. Problems that were beyond the means of the group to solve and should be escalated.
2. Problems that were beneath the means of the group to solve and should be delegated.
3. Problems that were within the group's ability to solve.
4. Problems that can be solved with an immediate decision.

I suggested that we concentrate on the fourth area in the meeting, and assign sub-groups to work problems in the third area. The meetings went from 8 hours to about 2.

1994 - 1995 Commander 256 Combat Communications Squadron

I was given my choice of assignments after the Air Staff position. I could have gone back to command the 215th, but been there, done that, and everything I learned, I learned there, so there wasn't much more I could teach them.

I elected to go with Combat Communications. I guess I had enough Forward Air Controller left in me to want to go live in tents again. The 256 was a fantastic unit with great people, and I learned a lot. Unfortunately, I was its last commander as it was disbanded about 10 months after I took over.

1995 - 1996 Commander 272 Combat Communications Squadron

I went from the best to the worst. Well, maybe worst was not a proper term, but this squadron was the "problem child" of the Washington Air National Guard. My job was to get it into shape to pass inspection 9 months after I took over. In National Guard "years," that's 18 days (one weekend per month). We passed.

Epilogue

All good things come to an end, and so it was with my military career. I moved out of state in 1996, and commuted back from North Carolina at my own expense for six months until the inspection was completed. The National Guard was drawing down everywhere, and the option of transferring into the North Carolina Guard with my advanced rank was problematic.

Had I stayed in Washington State, and rotated back to the Air Staff, would I have made full colonel? That's the path not taken.

Of all the military experiences I've had, the National Guard was the most rewarding. The key is that it was truly volunteer. Most people didn't need the extra money. Besides, there are other part-time jobs where they don't send you to Saudi Arabia in the summer or Korea in the winter. The bottom line was that people were in the Guard because they wanted to be there.

I got to work along side managers at all levels from Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, U.S. West, AT&T, and a myriad of other companies. I've worked with people whose "day jobs" were engineers, accountants, school teachers and plumbers. The diversity almost assured that there wasn't a problem at least one of us couldn't solve.