'The times, they are a changin'

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Riddle
  • 374th Maintenance Group
When I made my decision to join the Air Force in the late 1970s, we had just finished the Vietnam war, Jimmy Carter was president and (similar to the aftermath of every big war), huge cuts had been made to the military. 

One of my favorite folk singers of the day was Bob Dylan. He had no singing voice to speak of, but he was truly an American poet and anti-war activist. He wrote: If your time to you Is worth savin’ Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are achangin.

 There were tremendous changes going on in America and in the military. We started a thing called the “all-volunteer” military. Many felt the military would fall on its face, that good people could only be drafted into the military. I was told frequently, this was not a good time to join the military. 

I joined anyway and the crusty old chiefs and colonels I worked with fondly told war stories about how great things used to be. They mourned the future of the Air Force with all these changes and with the kinds of youth they were seeing now that we were an
all-volunteer force (I was one of those kids). I often saw one 'The times, they are a changin' of those old heads punch out and retire claiming they couldn’t hang around and contribute to the destruction of their Air Force. 

As a young person, I didn’t buy into the doom and gloom. I was having the time of my life
and all the change the Air Force was going through was exciting to me. Half the fun in life was diving into the daily problems and finding a way around, over, under or through them. 

I found I liked change and the opportunity to make change. I didn’t like running into obstacles that stayed there because, “this was the way we have always done it.” My
favorite author, Isaac Asimov, once said “It is change, continuing change, inevitable
change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made
any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will
be …” 

In the late 1980s, the Air Force made a big change in my career field of aircraft maintenance. We went from 3- levels of maintenance (meaning flightline, backshop, and repair and depot overhaul) to 2-levels of maintenance (meaning just flightline and
depot overhaul). 

In those days, crewchiefs were on the flightline and specialists were in the back shops where they learned their trade by rebuilding parts in shop and testing them on complex test stands. If they needed to be on an aircraft, they would leave the shop and drive to the aircraft. This new system not only cut manning (a horrifying thought), it did away with the shops and kept specialists on the flightline full time. 

While the crusty old colonels and chiefs bemoaning the future of the Air Force, I as a mid-grade captain still found change exciting. Since I frequently deployed doing essentially the same thing on a bare-base operation, it was a concept I could see actually working. Sure enough, here we are almost 20 years later and the Air Force is still around and better than anytime in its history. 

In the early 1990s, the Air Force along with the other services took huge manning cuts as part of the post-Desert Storm and post-Cold War “Peace Dividend.” I remember
seeing many friends and respected co-workers leave the Air Force as part of that
drawdown. Of course, all the talk was how the Air Force would survive. 

That period of time I was stationed at the Air Mobility command headquarters (recently struggling from some massive changes of its own). I remember several general officer briefings woefully juxtaposing the manning cuts on top of the four-fold increase in contingencies across the world. 

The one common theme I hope everyone picks up from this is we continue to face
change and it is not unusual to hear people groaning about it. 

To quote Rickard Hooker from the 16th century (yes, they were having problems with
change way back then), “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” 

The interesting thing is, it is usually the youth that embrace change and make the
mission happen, ultimately making the Air Force better than it ever was. The older you get, the more comfortable you are with the way things are and the more threatened you are by change. So now that I find myself one of those old crusty colonels, I would like to break tradition by telling our young Airmen (officer and enlisted) that yes, there is change coming and it will be big but it will make the Air Force even better than anything I was ever involved. 

Don’t listen to those bemoaning the future; they will probably drop by the wayside like those before them. You are the new generation; you thrive on the excitement these changes will bring. 

Ride this change as you would a massive wave off the North Shore of Hawaii during the
X Games. Be fearless, the future is yours.