Delivering More than Technical Traction
My first three months in Spain were a whirlwind. Aside from getting myself settled into a new country, finding a new home and adapting to a foreign lifestyle, I had to learn the procedures associated with my new base and its special mission. There was another round of graded instruction for the squadron’s conventional role — and then there was the pressure-packed nuclear certification that would culminate with an hour-long oral examination on the procedures, flight profile, threats, countermeasures, and delivery for a real-world nuclear strike line. Just as soon as I finished that gauntlet, the squadron deployed to our wartime fighting location at Incirlik, Turkey.
Once we arrived, there was a new airfield to absorb with a completely different pattern, bombing range, and the rules that would govern our looming evaluation. All of the things I had been through were no longer theory. Live nuclear weapons would be loaded on our aircraft – we would be working with the real McCoy.
Once we settled in and got a few local sorties under our belts, our operational readiness exercise began. As the New Guy, I was the pilot assigned to preflight and “cock” all of our operational aircraft. On board each would be one or two nuclear weapons and while I knew the procedures backwards and forwards, I had never actually seen a real, no-kidding, special weapon before.
One of the most experienced pilots in our squadron, Rich “The Great Fentoni” Fenton, was in charge of ramp operations and he would shuttle me from one hardened aircraft shelter to another as I went through the formal preflight of each jet. Fentoni stopped our truck right in front of the open concrete-reinforced doors of the first shelter where an F-16, holding a shiny B-61 thermo-nuclear weapon under her right wing, was waiting for me.
I stepped out of the six pack, closed the truck’s door and gazed at the sight before me. The Great Fentoni’s words broke my trace – “Everything okay?” I turned with an expression that betrayed the words – “Yeah, I’m okay…” and a broad smiled enveloped Fentoni’s face. “Oh, that’s right you’ve never seen a real B-61 before, have you?!” He got out of the vehicle, led me through the secure entry point and we walked right up to the jet. He grabbed the nose of the bomb, shook it from side to side, and then walked me through the task before me in a way shaped so much more than my technical confidence.
Nobody told the Great Fentoni to watch out for me, and he could’ve just as easily set back in that truck and laughed at me as I stumbled through my first preflight –- but he didn’t. He went out of his way to help me get footing. It was the perfect gift and that technical “leg-up” had a collateral effect on my feeling of belonging. I could feel the distance closing. I was becoming part of the team.
It’s not the big things that accelerate the people around you – it’s the little ones that generate their closure. When you take the time to further the technical traction of those around you by just that much, the connective tissue you create will cause their surge in momentum to accelerate the entire team. Make the extra effort for those around you and you’ll reap the returns of your own furthering wind.