Embracing Change – 10 Years of the 102nd Intelligence Wing

  • Published
  • By Mr. Timothy Sandland
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing
Change is a challenging proposal.  Be it an adjustment to a daily routine, or one’s preconceived notions, the resistance to change is inherently a human condition. For individuals, having a tried and true routine is familiar and easy. There is a certain comfort factor that accompanies the status quo and convinces us that changing something for the sake of change itself is usually a bad thing. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

The same can hold true for military organizations.

Like an individual, a military unit can be infused with lineage and history, its identity defined by its mission. The longer the organization serves in a particular area of specialization, coupled with its level of success and reputation, can cause the roots of pride and ownership to grow even deeper. Those ideals of pride and ownership are strong and positive characteristics of course, but when confronted with a major transition, those same ideals can be detrimental to progress.

There is a reason why a sapling is far easier to replant than a 60 year-old oak tree.

Entering 2008, the 102nd Fighter Wing had been performing its mission of air defense for decades, and it performed that mission very well. From the wing’s earliest days in the 1950’s, flying the F-51 Mustang and F-94 Starfire, to its final operations of combat air patrol flying the F-15C Eagle over the northeast region of the United States. The 102nd was recognized not only for its professionalism, but for its pride in its longstanding identity as a fighter unit.

On 6 April of that year, the unit launched into a new era as the 102nd Intelligence Wing, and ready or not, was confronted with the reality of change. There were Airmen who were more resistant than others, but as a whole, the wing embraced the challenge and met transition head on.

For many, the biggest hurdle was the realization that careers they had fostered and groomed for years were now confronted with a drastic change in vector. The prospect of doing something so diametrically different presented the challenge of the unknown. From fighter pilots to avionics technicians, the story was the same – embrace change or move on – and some did.  Those who stayed, accepted a long, uphill battle of training, certification and professionalizing themselves in their new career fields but they met these challenges by working hard and learning a new way of doing business. In some cases, the trek to these new qualifications represented the commitment of a year or more away at technical training and follow-on units for qualification.

No small task but one that was accepted boldly and willingly. Fortunately, we had a secret weapon – each other. The willingness to support one another and the willingness to be supported. The enthusiasm to learn. The farsightedness to look to the future – a future where the Air Force and Air National Guard are headed – and to jump on for the ride.

Fast forward ten years and the 102nd Intelligence Wing is solid. Far removed from the days of the challenge of the ‘unknown’. The pride and ownership is still here, growing new roots on the now 70 year-old tree, itself now accompanied by a younger, but no less strong tree – the sapling planted just ten years ago.

Change is never easy, but looking back over the decade that has passed, it’s clear that one thing is certain, the intangible measure of the capabilities of an organization is its ability to adapt.  Adaptation to new challenges in mindset… culture… expectation – and having the foresight and fortitude to pivot those barriers into tools to embrace the future.

Adaptation to new challenges – those intangible factors must come from within. The culture and organizational mindset of a wing comes from its Airmen. From the lowest ranking to the top, military or civilian, analyst or personalist – the willingness to succeed comes from within.

So, what can we attribute the last ten years of success at the 102nd Intelligence Wing to?

The answer is clear - take a look in the mirror.