Search for advocacy reveals new found inspiration

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christopher Tacheny
  • 66th Training Squadron commander
"I assume command"...rarely have so few words placed such awesome responsibilities and gratification upon an individual. It is the defining moment when a leader accepts the responsibility of advocating and caring for his people while they execute the mission. 

Moments after taking command, I wanted to convey my command perspective to my senior staff. The message was simple - for the next 60 days my focus would be to learn the mission and get to know the people. Perspective conveyed, I was ready to learn the mission and the people. The people are pouring their effort into the mission while we are working for and supporting them, advocating for their needs to complete the task at hand. Our people want to know we care, long before they care what we know. 

During a recent quest for advocacy, I accompanied my SERE Specialists and students into the Colville National Forest in order to join up with a SERE candidate team. The mission: remain mobile for seven days, and learn to triangulate position with a map and compass whenever directed. 

By the time I intercepted the team, they had already trudged through their first day and were bedding down for the night. The instructors had laid out the assignments for that night and the following morning, and had begun to annotate the performances of their respective students in their grade folders. After a full day of hiking through the woods, the last thing I wanted to do was paperwork. Check one for being inspired by what I had seen after only minutes in the company of such stellar professionals. After checking in, I proceeded to collect my ruck and pick out a stump-free sight for my tent. Just a minute or two down the trail, I spied a student looking up through the trees. Though grubby and exhausted from the day's effort and focusing on the next day's challenges, he quickly postured himself with professionalism and respect and greeted me. Check two. Even after a full day of hiking, he recognized me and came to a position of parade rest. He knew he would be instructing the next morning and was rehearsing his briefing, making sure he was ready. 

Dawn came quickly and the students were organizing their final thoughts and putting the finishing touches on their equipment for their morning inspection. The element I would accompany did very well with their inspection and was anxious to hit the trail. With a 6'4" 230 lb frame, I found that my usual-long legged pace would not be sufficient, check three. SERE maintains an exceptionally high level of fitness. 

Our mission today would be to climb the 5,820 foot Granite Peak, triangulate our position and reach our next camp site. Without notice, instructors might ask "so what is the current pace count? And who wants to instruct water procurement". On top of laboring under a 50-pound pack, having to work through thick cedar slash, bald face hornets and blood-thirsty mosquitoes, these candidates were expected to keep track of their pace count and maintain heading. Check four; it's one thing to be "fit to fight," but to maintain situational awareness with a high degree of accuracy and be able to instruct in the fine art of water procurement in this environment is truly inspiring. 

Their final objective of the day would be to demonstrate fire and shelter craft. They were given one hour to chop down, drag and carve up enough wood complete with sufficient tinder to start a fire. Just moments after the students were released to commence fire craft, rain poured down upon the candidates. I have surmised at least one of my instructors must have a direct line to the man upstairs. I found myself inspired yet again. 

Not much worse for the wear, I returned home. Just a few months into command, my continued search for advocacy was proving beneficial, but in the end, it was the new-found source of inspiration and motivation that I found in the professionalism of SERE Specialists. 

The words "I assume command" do place a fantastic level of responsibility and effort upon an officer and his family, but the rewards of being part of something so vastly larger than self outweigh the long workdays and restless nights. As I finalize my thoughts regarding command and advocacy, I realized there may in fact be one other rather simple phrase that places a considerable amount of both responsibility and satisfaction upon an individual, and that phrase is simply "I do," such as in marriage, for without the support of my wife and children, command would be an insurmountable challenge. Thank you Sandy, Gabriel and Isabella.