In my last blog, we looked at the power of relationships in leadership and how the Air Force Academy helped me develop my mantra, “It’s all about relationships.” In this blog, I’ll share how I put this concept to work in a foreign country.
In the Fall of 2005, the Air Force tasked Brig. Gen. Frank Padilla to develop a post-Saddam Iraqi Air Force. After three wars in 20 years, the 1,000 aircraft Iraqi Air Force had been decimated. All they had remaining were a few helicopters. Our military leaders understood the need for a “new” Iraq to have an effective defensive military force, including a well-equipped Air Force, to counter the threat posed by Iran and an unstable Middle East.
Gen. Padilla took a USAF team, active duty and Reservists, to Iraq to establish a strategy-to-task process to determine the best structure for a new Iraqi Air Force. Once the strategy was established, he put a staff in place with the personnel and equipment required to conduct safe operations with the remaining helicopters. A new Iraqi Air Force would need aircraft, too. As a result, the US gifted three C-130’s, the workhorse of the military aviation world, to the Iraqi government. Gen. Padilla’s team had identified a former air base attached to Baghdad International Airport as the ideal site for basing the C-130s, New Al Muthana Air Base (NAMAB).
A team of 12 airmen, 30 Iraqis, and a Danish supply sergeant were in place at NAMAB monitoring the building construction and preparing for the arrival of the C-130’s. We would need to stand up a completely new air force base and teach a group of Iraqis how to fly and maintain the aircraft. Gen. Padilla believed senior leadership would be vital to bring this new base to operational status in the shortest time. He asked if I would spend six months living on NAMAD directing the project – I jumped at the chance!
I arrived as Gen. Padilla was about to board his plane to return home, he gave me my marching orders, and off I went. The only tools I had in my flight bag, at that point, were the small preliminary team in place and my ability to develop relationships and motivate people.
(To Be Continued...)