Are you a digger?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Walter Matthews
  • 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron Commander
Late in the year 1776, General George Washington made the strategic decision to take back the city of New York from the British Army under General Howe. However, this posed a huge challenge, as the British were well-entrenched in New York, and the city itself was easily defended due to geography. The one chance the Continental Army had was to advance and take the Brooklyn Heights, the high ground from which they could bombard both the city and the water escape routes.

So, in possibly the most daring operation of the entire American Revolution, Washington decided to take the Brooklyn Heights in one night, under cover of darkness. In an operation that would make our Air Force Special Operations Command brothers proud, Washington ordered his men to take the Heights on a moonless night, with no torches or lanterns, and dig entrenchments and earthworks for the cannon.

They did it. These starving, half-clothed citizen-warriors dug all night, and by morning, they had accomplished a task that would normally have taken a week. But if you were to ask these men the next day what they remember from that accomplishment, they would unanimously say one thing:

The general was with us!

You see, when dawn broke over the Brooklyn Heights, and the exhausted men could finally see the world around them, they saw their leader - muddy, sweat-soaked and spent from digging all night.

Washington had been among his men, digging beside them, with no thought other than accomplishing the task. He did not dig for show, he did not dig for accolades - he dug for depth, to get the job done.

We must all be this kind of leader!

The upcoming Operational Readiness Inspection is Team Fairchild's assault on New York. To be successful, we must be daring, strong and unified. As leaders, we must be in the trenches with our Airmen - digging beside them. We must understand, as Washington did, that nothing makes the crops grow like the farmer's footprints. We must understand servant leadership as did our first commander-In-chief, that the greatest among us must be the servant of all. This is the kind of leadership that finds the commander in the cockpit, the chief dragging fuel hoses and the doctor carrying chart boxes to the deployment line.

As leaders, I encourage you to get out among your people. Our job is to teach and coach. Our Airmen will only find us relevant if they see that we know their job, and can do it with them. How will they see this unless we are digging beside them? And don't just dig for show - dig for depth. If you smear the mud on your own face, your folks will know. Get muddy instead by tossing the dirt over your shoulder as you work with your Airmen.

Incidentally, the Continental Army was successful, and took the City of New York. The British evacuation was so quick and panicked that as General Howe boarded ship, he was observed to have missed some buttons on his pants. Did this stunning success happen because Washington threw dirt with his soldiers? Probably not. Washington threw dirt with his soldiers because he was a soldier, too.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite Scripture verses. Proverbs 27:17 reads, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." We, as leaders, have been sharpened by those who have gone before - we must now sharpen our own Airmen. And one piece of iron does not sharpen another by giving orders to be sharp, explaining how to be sharp, or by modeling the ideal of sharpness.

Sharpening only happens through contact.