Escaping from the 'Box'

  • Published
  • By Col. Virginia Doonan
  • 102nd Intelligence Group Commander
I recently attended the National Guard Bureau Executive Safety Summit in Milwaukee, Wis., along with other 102nd commanders, our chaplain corps and safety team. We listened to several briefers, both great and not so great, on a variety of safety issues to include traditional aviation safety, driving safety and resiliency issues for Airmen and family. One of the best briefers was our Air National Guard Command Chief, Chief Muncy, who told the story of our Airmen and the fantastic accomplishments he sees while he visits them serving around the globe. The other brief with equal impact was a retired Air Force colonel, who now owns his own company, Positive Vectors, and travels around the country speaking to audiences about human potential. It occurred to me that these two speakers inspired me because they were talking about something that is near and dear to my heart. The potential our Airmen have for success and greatness.

Colonel Edward L. Hubbard, retired, was the speaker and had written the book, Escape from the Box, The Wonder of Human Potential. The title of the book somewhat amused me in the fact that "Box" is the term the Intelligence Group often uses to refer to our Digital Ground Station (DGS) facility where we currently operate 24/7/365. Many an evening, our operators contemplate escaping from the box! For Hubbard, the "Box" described the cell in "Hanoi Hilton" where he endured more than six years of captivity as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Escaping the box was figuratively how he found ways to make his time productive during those six years. He maintained a positive outlook on life to ensure that although he was living in an environment that was incredibly difficult and challenging, he would have good days instead of bad. In this way, he ensured that the day he left the Hanoi Hilton, he would not have been held hostage the time he was there. That's an awe-inspiring story, and almost hard to believe given some of the stories that we know about servicemember's time as POWs in Vietnam. Yet, in his book and speech that day he talked about how he made the most of his time to do some feats that would seem impossible, both physically and mentally to most people. I won't give away the entire book, but some of the examples he used were believing in himself and breaking the world record at the time for jumping rope, 3,640 times without missing a beat despite a diet that was almost to the point of starvation. Or, mentally, challenging himself to learn multiple languages through tap code by fellow prisoners to the extent that when he returned to America, he took a test in a language he had never spoken or seen in writing, yet was fluent.

With all the challenges we face in our day-to-day lives, here at Otis or at home, it's easy to get stuck in a negative mindset, or have a series of "bad days." As our unit, the Guard, the Air Force and our country face uncertain times we can slip into a mind set of "bad days" and forget what our potential can truly be. This is what the two speakers reminded me of so clearly. That our Airmen have the talent, potential and drive to do things we can only imagine. As I watch the Intelligence Group in our daily mission at home and abroad, I am continually impressed by our people's ingenuity, drive to execute the mission better and easier while enhancing the analysis we send downrange. This is the case with any of our Airmen in the Wing, whether it is in Civil Engineering, Logistics, Medical, you name it. Our potential is well beyond what we could imagine. As long as we believe in ourselves and are willing to work hard at the task we want to succeed in, Hubbard writes there is practically nothing we can't do. As leaders, the greatest challenge is to create an atmosphere where people want to do great things. Certainly our track record recently in inspections points to this. For example, the Logistics Readiness Squadron, incredibly understaffed by national standards, which did an exemplary job in their recent Logistics Compliance Assessment Program inspection; or the Wing's recent Unit Compliance Inspection results, simply incredible.

In closing, I want to share how our POWs would say good night to each other while in captivity. They tapped, G.B.A. (God Bless America) before going to sleep. That was to make sure nobody ever forgot why they were there or would ever forget how important it was to perform to the best of their ability every single day. I challenge myself and you to try to do the same.