Take Courage - Get Involved

  • Published
  • By Col. Eric Gates
  • 39th Maintenance Group commander
I recently had the opportunity to represent the wing at the Air Force's first Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Senior Leaders Summit. While there I heard firsthand the Air Force's position on sexual assault from the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force: We will not tolerate it. What struck me most in those two days of briefings and discussions was the importance of the bystander's role in preventing sexual assault. The bystander has the potential to watch a bad situation form or already in motion and chooses not to take appropriate action to stop it.

During one of the presentations at the SAPR summit, we were part of an interactive skit. This audience of colonels, chief master sergeants and flag officers each received stop signs to hold up when they detected inappropriate conduct by one of the actors. It was amazing how long it took before the first person had the nerve to raise a sign, and there were some pretty clear inappropriate actions taking place. Most of people recognized the offenses and even discussed them with the people sitting next to them, but no one intervened.

How many times have we seen a situation or the sign of a developing problem and did not get involved to defuse it or prevent a negative outcome? Unfortunately, I can remember a few times when I was in a hurry somewhere or more concerned about my Airmen to intervene when I saw something not quite right. Sometimes I took the wrong approach and assumed I didn't know the current rules, so maybe what looked wrong wasn't really wrong. What a cop out!

I recently read a Mark Twain quote that said, "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the ones you did do."

How true! Each time I realized I had not properly corrected a fellow Airman, I felt like I failed as a leader.

On Wingman Day, we focused on knowing and helping our fellow Airmen and workmates in order to successfully accomplish our mission and preserve our most valuable tools in the inventory: Our people.

During a session at the conference, we talked about exercising leadership instead of being a bystander. We agreed it's not always easy or convenient to get involved when we see the signs of a problem forming, but it sure is better than wondering what we might have prevented if we had acted.

Maybe Mr. Twain understood the Wingman's role better than I thought. Get involved and avoid the future regrets - that's the role of a good Airman, wingman and leader!