When to say “Uncle”

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dieter Bareihs
  • 18th Fighter Squadron commander
Recently the Air Force reduced the number of its active-duty personnel in order to meet the congressionally mandated end strength of 359,700. The cuts will continue, as the Air Force intends to separate an additional 40,000 personnel. In the course of the cuts, a popular mantra was "do more with less" as the amount of work remained constant, yet there were less people to accomplish it. 

In fact, lately the amount of work has actually increased; gone are the days when TDY orders magically appeared and when Airmen had one or two additional duties here are the days when three or four additional duties are the norm and computer-based training rules the day. 

Since its inception, "do more with less" evolved into "do less with less." Recently, the phrase "do what you can with what you have" has become commonplace. To this new commander, this phrase not only makes the most sense, but more importantly, it provides guidance--to the commander as well as the youngest Airman. 

As the Air Force continues to reduce personnel, leveraging people for technology, it is not only important for Airmen at all levels to "do what they can with what they have," but also to know when to say "uncle." For many of us, the importance of mission accomplishment is ingrained in our psyche. However, we cannot forget about our people. No one likes telling their supervisor that something can't be done, yet that is exactly what needs to happen. Most Air Force people that I've met in my 17-year Air Force career have been type-A personalities. If you let them, they will try to do more with less. 

They will work 12-plus-hour days in order to get everything done, but will wear themselves out while doing so. In the end, the mission will suffer. In doing what we can with what we have, supervisors and commanders must determine what must be done in order for the mission to go on and what they cannot do because of limited resources. They then must provide corresponding guidance to their Airmen. In turn, Airmen must inform the supervisor/commander when they are unable to accomplish all that is being asked of them. 

Integrity is a core value. Informing our supervisors what can and can't be accomplished and the consequences of completing one task over another demonstrates integrity. Hiding things from our supervisors does not. Conversely, crying uncle only to avoid doing work (or maybe difficult work) is also a breach of integrity. How do commanders and supervisors differentiate between work that won't get done and work that can't get done? Leadership--know your people; decide what and when to elevate to the next level in the chain of command and when to handle the situation. 

The only way to ensure senior Air Force leadership knows the level of "pain" being experienced in the field is to communicate accurately up the chain of command. If we as Airmen try to do more with less, senior leadership may assume that all is well, when that may not be the case at all. Do what you can with what you have. Maintain your integrity and keep your leadership informed.