By Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz
Air Education and Training Command commander
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Today, we are approaching nine years of sustained combat operations. Many could even argue that our Air Force has been involved in continuous combat operations since the original Gulf War in 1991. Even more challenging, today’s combat operations are being conducted while the rest of the nation fights its way through a recession, making resources extremely constrained. Such an environment demands a unique blend of innovation and intellect – looking for efficiencies at every corner in order to achieve our desired effect.
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on resourcing and new weapon systems as the “innovation,” the panacea for our challenges. Doing so, however, would cause us to overlook the most effective weapon at our disposal during such challenging times: the one between each of our ears. In many ways, investing in intellect, in our ability to out-think the enemy, is the most cost-efficient way to prepare for future uncertainty and to combat a clever foe.
There are those who say there are three types of intellect – and we fit into a different category depending on the situation. There are those who come up with the innovative idea, those who understand the idea and those who wouldn’t know a good idea if it hit them in the face. Now, my description of the last group may seem a bit harsh, and at times I’m sure we all feel like we’re out of our element, but the times where you find yourself in the last category are also the times where you’ll have the best opportunity for self-improvement.
You see, we each bring a unique set of skills, experiences and intellect to different situations. Although we would all like to be the “idea person,” the individual who always has the innovative ideas, not every situation or challenge is suited to their intellectual talents. These are the times when we can be most critical of ourselves and take advantage of the opportunity to improve. In today’s world, the easiest and quickest way to self-improve is to increase our individual levels of education.
Remember: Education is how we prepare ourselves for the uncertainty of tomorrow.
I know that increasing our education levels isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Thankfully, the Air Force helps with one of the limited resources we balance every day: money. Scholarship and tuition assistance programs help pay for many advanced degrees and education programs.
Another limited resource many people struggle with is time. Our challenge is making the time to find beneficial education programs and then the important part – completing them. After all, if it were easy, then time wouldn’t be an issue and everyone would have multiple degrees.
Think back five years ago, and then 10 years ago. Were you any busier then than you are now? Chances are no. Do you think you’ll be any less busy five or 10 years from now? Again, probably not. The truth is – you won’t be any less busy or have more time than you do right now.
Making a commitment to complete education and self-improvement programs may move other priorities to the side. When you’re weighing the relative importance of each, remember that education and self-improvement are activities that will help you no matter where life takes you. If you decide to stay in the Air Force, it will help better serve the nation. If you decide to shift into another career outside the Air Force, higher levels of education and study will help translate into increased pay and responsibilities.
Either way, you win and are better prepared to successfully handle the challenges that life throws at you – especially when you least expect it. In the end, the better prepared that you are, the better the chance you could be the “idea person.” Tomorrow’s challenges will certainly be bigger than those we face today. Our Air Force – and our nation – needs you to better prepare now.
Your investment in education and intellect is the best weapon to combat the uncertainty that tomorrow will bring. After all, we can’t afford not to.