Col. Scott Zobrist, 388th Fighter Wing commander, and I stood on the tarmac, a stone's throw from the runway. The hiss of a taxiing F-16 broke the serenity of a crisp summer night. The aircraft had just completed the final checks prior to take-off: Four high explosive missiles and a deadly gun system were armed. The jet is ready to provide combat air support wherever it is called upon for America's interests. The pilot lines up on the runway, the engine roars and soon the jet is in full afterburner. The thrust created is more than enough for the jet to take off into the clear, starry night. I turned to Col. Zobrist and said, "A lot of work just took off." He most certainly agreed.
As we drove off, I began to wonder, if the take-off were a murder, who'd be charged with such a serious crime? How long would the investigation take to determine who should be held responsible?
Does the responsibility fall on the pilot? He, of course, was responsible for pushing the throttle forward. Or could we hold the engine mechanic accountable? The engine worked to perfection, if it didn't work well, the jet wouldn't have taken off. So we could craft an argument that the engine mechanic was responsible for the take-off. But hold on, the engine mechanic had an accomplice!
He was helped by the supply technician who ordered, organized and managed the replacement parts the mechanic used to ensure the engine would function properly. But hold on, what about the weapons troop? If he didn't arm the missiles, the jet wouldn't have taken off … makes no sense to provide combat air support without the things that go boom! But, the things that go boom are attached to components that must operate properly. Could we hold the back shop personnel responsible for the take-off? They ensured the launchers were operating properly in order for the missiles to effectively mount and interface with the jet as well as to provide the pilot with the appropriate tones and indications. But hold on, there are others!
The tones and indications are useless if the pilot's helmet isn't functioning properly. Maybe we can hold our life support experts responsible for the take-off. If they didn't do such a good job to ensure the pilot's gear was in order, the pilot most certainly couldn't have taken off. But hold on!
One of the reasons why the pilot was scheduled for this sortie was because it was verified that he was current and qualified on numerous prerequisites thanks to the work of "One Charlies." Maybe we can hold those Airmen accountable for the take-off. But hold on!
What about the flight chiefs, the non-commissioned officers in charge, the squadron commanders, maintenance officers, the first sergeants and the production superintendents? Are they not the people who organized the work shifts or ensured the personnel have the resources to perform their job or the people who orchestrated all the numerous events that happen just for a jet to taxi? But hold on!
A large majority of the maintainers, support and ops personnel are supported by a spouse or a significant other. Children are taken, errands are run and households are kept in order all of which help our Airmen to focus on their mission.
If this take-off were a murder the investigation would be nearly endless. It would certainly result in the largest number of people ever held responsible for a specific act. And I hope you are like me with respect to your confession. I'd proudly take the stand and boast that I definitely had a part in the take-off. But hold on! I'd also come clean and admit that hundreds, if not thousands, of accomplices helped me; from the youngest Airman to the most senior officers to the dedicated civilians. In my short time as command chief, I have been quite impressed with operations conducted by the men and women of the 388th FW. The collective effort toward a common goal is exactly what teamwork is all about. And in my view, the teamwork is what creates the thrust for our jets to take off.