The Air Force gave me the opportunity to lead the program responsible for the physical security of “special assets” in Europe during the ‘80s. As a lowly Captain, I was regarded by our allies as the resident expert on what you could or could not do in regards to the rules on physical security measures. As an informal leader in this role, I was fortunate to meet many higher ranking counterparts from many countries.
As a side story, I met with a Turkish Colonel on many occasions. As a young man I thought I could challenge the older Colonel to a race up a security tower he and I were inspecting. Unbeknownst to me, he was the coach of one of the Turkish national soccer teams. I lost the race.
This assignment led to another special project focused on the planning and installation of the Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) in Europe. Our small group of young officers initiated the planning for the initial deployment of the cruise missiles in Italy. I had left the assignment before the other sites became a reality.
The GLCM assignment linked me to yet another special project – the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with the former USSR. Signed by President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev in December 1987, the treaty was the first to allow “boots” on the ground to verify compliance. This treaty was the first to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons in theater – over 2500 weapons.
Although I didn’t link the two programs, I later discovered the installation of the GLCMs led to the INF treaty. I also learned that the cruise missiles were planned and developed in the early ‘70’s. So, someone had the leadership to develop this long-range strategy – effectively outspending the USSR since they could not keep up economically.
These programs were large and complex. The management of them involved cooperation with agencies outside the direct chain of command. That said, the higher purpose held the groups together. Both programs were great successes from a leadership point of view.
I enjoyed my interactions with the allies, the people I met in Europe, and the Soviets with whom I had contact. I learned how leadership and management are distinct activities and the importance of each.
The Berlin Wall fell just over a week after the birth of my daughter. I don’t think the two events are connected, but who knows for sure.
Tim Parker is a Business Consultant focusing on Executives and Leadership. He is President of Parker Resource Management, LLC in Raleigh, NC.
"What do you want to be remembered for?" - Peter Drucker