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In “You” We Trust

May 20, 2009

Back in Navy flight training, one of my instructors used to say, “these aircraft are designed by PHD’s, built by Master’s Degrees, flown by Undergrads, and maintained by High School Grads”.    That always struck me as a very interesting hierarchy that has to include plenty of trust.  In fact, I can take this analogy one step farther as my aircraft, the P3 Orion, had a crew full of high school grads.  We had a crew of 12, and 7 of those were enlisted servicemen, most with just high school degrees.    As the first pilot and plane commander, I had to hold quite a bit of trust in my crew as their individual roles were critical to our mission success and safety.  One particular mission, we were flying in the Adriatic Sea assisting a NATO blockade against the former Yugoslavia.   There were numerous countries involved in this operation, including many submarines, and the P3’s primary mission was hunting submarines.   An unknown sub slipped into the Adriatic from the South, was closing in on the blockade, and it was not responding to our requests to identify itself (concerning because Yugoslavia had 3 submarines!).   We tracked the unidentified sub as it moved closer to the blockade using underwater sonobuoys (basically an underwater microphone).  We had 2 enlisted Acoustic Sensor Operators on board whose role was to track submarines using sound coming from the subs, the sound manifesting itself as seemingly abstract lines on a rolling page.  This was a multi hour evolution of tracking, attempted communications and waiting for engagement authorization from NATO headquarters, so I will “cut to the chase”.  We were minutes away from receiving authorization to engage this unidentified sub when my First Sensor Operator, a fine young man only a few years out of high school, said, “Sir, based upon what I am seeing here, this is a French Submarine”.   Trusting this highly skilled sailor, I immediately called off our engagement and notified NATO.   A Sensor Operator normally isn’t asked to identify a sub, but only to track it’s course, speed and depth.  The good ones are so experienced that they can identify the unique audio signature that each sub creates.   On this successful mission, the entire outcome was based upon me trusting the opinion of one fantastic sailor.  Successful leaders  put good people in place, empower them, and most importantly, trust them.  Trust is a powerful tool!   You can read more about the P3 Orion here,

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