AF history gives life to "Eve of Tomorrow"
By Col. Joel Safranek, 436th Airlift Wing commander, 436th Airlift Wing
/ Published September 04, 2018
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- This month we will celebrate the Air Force’s 71st birthday. As we prepare for celebrating this milestone at Dover’s Air Force Ball, event organizers have themed the ball as “Eve of Tomorrow.” This idea spawns from a positive desire to get Airmen excited about looking forward, placing emphasis on innovation and technology. Although I am as excited as the next about looking forward, I would urge all Airmen if you want to look forward, first take the time to look back. History has many lessons, experiences and tales which provide insight for the Eve of Tomorrow.
Of all the services, the Air Force has always shown the strongest drive toward technology and innovation, even before its official birth. Pioneers like Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell pushed the Army Air Corps’ outer limits of air power to the point it cost him his career as an Army aviator. Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle followed in Mitchell’s innovative footsteps when he dared to launch bombers off a carrier in order to bring the fight to the Japanese mainland. Innovation and technology were a cornerstone to Lt. Gen. William Tunner’s success in leading cargo operations over “the Hump” in Indochina and during the Berlin Airlift. Many other Airmen propelled this spirit of innovation and technological prowess past the official birth of the Air Force in 1947. This includes Brig. Gen. “Chuck” Yeager, Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, Col. John A. Warden III … and the list goes on.
With Warden, the fight for a new way to wage aerial warfare was not with the Army, as Mitchell had done, but an internal struggle within the Air Force. As the U.S. faced Iraq for the first time in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he had to convince Air Force leaders to break away from Air-Land Battle, the existing doctrine at the time, in favor of his Five Rings Theory, an unproven idea. Fortunately for many American service members, the willingness to try Warden’s idea prevailed.
A common thread among all these Airmen is their unwavering tenacity to try, take risk, and a willingness to accept the possibility of failure. Essentially, innovation has been a part of the Air Force’s (and our) life blood; it has never left us. In an effort to formally capture such spirit, the Air Force has called innovation many things over the years: “AFSO 21” and “CPI” for example. Regardless of what you call it, we must not allow this spirit to escape us. For the name of the program will never outmatch the mindset the programs bring; the mindset to go after how to get to “yes” vice accepting “no.” We must always be willing to break free from the chains with which status quo can often tie us down, and simply be willing to try a new idea. It is this willingness to think about different approaches, the willingness to face the risk of failure and the willingness to experiment that tie all of today’s Airmen to those great leaders of the past. For this willingness will always be a part of our future (as it was yesterday). So for all Dover Airmen attending this year’s Air Force Ball on Sept. 15, as you look forward and celebrate the Eve of Tomorrow, I call you to also reflect on and celebrate this common thread from the past.