“But, Colonel, you are the squadron commander! Why don’t you approve the waiver for this crew duty day extension, since you’re right here on the airplane?”
As the senior instructor pilot in charge of our mission that day, I noted that our duty day had extended beyond the maximum 12 hours allowed, due to inflight delays as well as excessively long air refueling and navigation practice portions of our mission. I therefore advised the squadron commander, who was flying with us that day, that we’d need his approval to continue our training by performing pilot approach, landing, and touch and go practice aboard our four engine jet aircraft.
“Nope!” our lieutenant colonel squadron commander replied, “I’m not the squadron commander today. Since I’m flying, I’m just a ‘crew dog’ like everyone else on this airplane. Our navigator needs to radio the command post and request approval by the operations group commander, the acting squadron commander today.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as quoted by Eric Metaxas in Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy emphasized the colonel’s perspective. "The true Leader must always…lead his following away from the authority of his person to the recognition of the real authority of orders and offices…He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those whom he leads…He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.”
I was convinced that many of the confident squadron commanders I’d known in my Air Force career would have simply approved their own waiver. But, I marveled that this officer, as aggressive and self-assured as any lieutenant colonel I’d known, simply refused to extend to himself the waiver authority his position carried, particularly so since he needed the approval just as much as the rest of the crew members on board our aircraft that day.
Knowing that none of the subordinate members on board our aircraft would have challenged his word, the squadron commander showed great humility when he refused to approve his own waiver that day. Our wise commander made an indelible impression not only on this young officer but also on all the crew members aboard our airplane that day.