By Maj. Ryan M. Hengel, 375 LRS/CC
/ Published April 12, 2021
Who is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT)? This debate is frequently held especially in the sports world. Is it Tom Brady or Joe Montana? Is it Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan? Is it the greats of the past or the greats of today? What these arguments miss is the appreciation of greatness each individual had at the highest levels of their profession during their respective eras.
I see the same debate being held over the greatness of the Air Force of the past, versus the Air Force of the present. So often old heads tell “back in the day” war stories about the Air Force of the past and how great it was, how today’s Air Force is “soft” or “weak” or too accommodating or cares too much. How in the past they had to endure the harshness of bad leadership, bad policies or just poor organizational culture that led to a less effective and less enjoyable Air Force experience. It is worn like a badge of honor then spun into tales of the “good ole” days. All while making others feel like they missed out, that the best days of the Air Force are far behind and never to return.
Today’s Air Force is enduring a lot of change. From hair regulations, to physical fitness standards, operating during a pandemic, the list goes on. We know that change is hard, and change management is even harder. Our Chief of Staff’s action orders to “Accelerate Change or Lose” makes change part of our Air Force DNA to drive mission effectiveness. If we can drive a positive change the Air Force of today will be more capable than the Air Force of the past.
Growing up in the Air Force during what some would call the “good ole” days wasn’t all that it’s made out to be. In the old Air Force, no one cared about work-life harmony, segments of our force felt ostracized for being different, toxic leaders and long hours were part of “embracing the suck”. Looking back at those times I’m happy they are in the past. The Air Force of the past was a product of its time, a time long since passed.
For those of us that have been here a while it’s good for us to recognize the Air Force we grew up in no longer exists and experiences of the past, for better or worse, has armed us with critical information allowing us to positively influence the today’s Air Force, making it an Air Force we always wanted to be part of. As Air Force members now is our chance to appreciate the greatness of today’s Air Force in how far we have come and how far we still have to go to become an even more effective fighting force. In my eyes, today’s Air Force is the GOAT.