The Power of Team: The Tuskegee Airmen

In 1944 the Walterboro Army Air Field became an advanced combat training base for fighter pilots. These fighters were primarily the African-American trainees graduating from the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. Over five hundred of the famous Tuskegee Airmen trained at at Walterboro between April 1944 and October 1945.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military pilots in the United States Armed Forces. During World War II, many black Americans were still subject to the Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to discrimination, both within and outside the army, even though they were serving their nation. It did not stop their mission.

Their teamwork, professionalism and their pride in service gave them high honor and caused a monumental shift of both thought and practice. They had broken a barrier that was previously thought impossible to overcome. It was a tribute to the power of team, vision, and the sheer willingness to “put up with the junk” for a bigger purpose. I thank God for those men who served our country and made a huge difference in the future of the social climate of the United States of America.

As an organizational leader, I hope that you, like the Tuskegee Airmen, can capture a bigger vision of service. And furthermore that you are willing to train the team, “put up with the junk” and follow through on the mission before you. Too many leaders are trying to change organizational culture on their own. It doesn’t work. You need a team of unified, highly trained warriors to make the difference.

If you will put that team together, train them to fight, and empower them to lead… no barrier will be left unbroken.

Leadership Minute filmed at the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial

The Old Man and the Sea

You may or may not know this, but I am a borderline workaholic (some may say there is no border to be seen). I am rarely to bed before midnight and I am always up early to start the day. After a full day of work, I spend the evening with my family, and then once everyone has gone to bed it is back to work. The only thing I let interrupt this evening work time is study or a good book. I read many books, and from time to time I will share something about them with you. I love the classics.

This week’s book was Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It is a tale of… you guessed it… an old man… and the sea. Really, it is a book about perseverance and struggle. You see, the old man, though his history was one of fishing fame, was ridiculed in his Cuban town because he had not caught in 84 days. He was considered unlucky. He didn’t care, catching fish was all he knew and he used to be the best at it.

How long has it been since you caught a fish?

He was determined, and believed that he would catch the biggest fish ever. HE DID. The fish he catches, he catches with great struggle and pain. In fact the struggle nearly kills him. It drags him to sea for several days of sleepless battle, taking his boat into uncharted waters. He watches as the island of Cuba disappears from view and he fears he shall never return. But, it is acceptable that he should die as long as he catches the fish. He respected the fish, and in that respect desired to kill it.

“The fish is my friend too,” he said aloud. “I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him.” Then he was sorry for the great fish that (like him) had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. “How many people will he feed, he thought”

If you do not see what I see in this paragraph, allow me to comment. If we are to be fishers of men then we must struggle to do so. We may go 84 days without leading another to Christ (I hope not). But, we must keep looking for the big fish. We can catch numerous small ones, and that is good. However, the fish that comes with struggle, although we may be dragged beyond what is familiar and comfortable, when landed has the potential to feed many. We should even be willing to lay down our lives for it. It may in fact mean that we need to ruin their life as well. What I mean is that their life will have to change.

“Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him.”

We all know people, that if we bring them to Jesus, their lives will necessarily change. Certain comforts must go. We can feel sorry for them, but knowing that a life with Jesus is the priority, we determine to allow Jesus to redirect their lives. We kill their “comfortable life” so that they and others will live. It is worth it! There really is no choice in it!

Brazen

The day is July 18, 1862 and the events of this day would echo through history as one on the most unique, if not brazen, acts of the American Civil War. It was on this day that Colonel Adam “Stovepipe” Rankin Johnson and two confederate partisans left Henderson Kentucky and crossed the Ohio river in a canoe, walked boldly into the company of eighty-five union soldiers under the command of Colonel Bethel in Newburgh Indiana and demanded their surrender. Once the union soldiers surrendered the rest of Johnson’s men, only twenty-nine in number, made landing and sacked the city. The Newburgh Siege would go down in history as the war’s deepest incursion north of the Mason-Dixon.

How did Colonel Johnson succeed? He succeeded because he had both a brazen plan and two really loyal men at his side.

Before the raid Johnson had set up two “Quaker Canons.” One canon was made from a charred log and the other from a stove pipe, each with a set of broken wagon wheels propped up at their side. These canons were set up on hills overlooking Newburgh at such a distance that a spotting glass could just make out their form. When Johnson and his two men walked confidently into the Exchange Hotel at what is now the corner of County Road 850 West and West Jennings Street, they were immediately drawn upon by the union forces housed there. At the end of eighty-five union guns, Johnson boldly demanded their surrender. Handing the spotting glass to Colonel Bethel, and encouraging Bethel to look at the two hilltop canons and across the bank of the Ohio where his twenty-nine soldiers waited, he convinced Bethel that hope was lost and that the entire city of Newburgh was surrounded. The quick surrender afforded the confederacy with much-needed arms, food and medical supplies. The real irony here is Johnson’s men had very few working weapons, and almost no food. Any resistance whatsoever, and the plan would have failed.

As a leader you could learn much from Colonel Johnson. First and foremost, that it takes courage to be a leader, especially when so many of your directs are relying on you to lead them. They desire to see a man or woman who is unafraid, competent and willing to go ahead of them into the future. For me, the great takeaway from the Newburgh Siege is this; with a brazen plan and two good men at my side I can expand my territory beyond what reason, or anyone from the outside, would consider possible.

When was the last time that you, convinced of God’s purpose and desire for the future, marched boldly into the enemy’s camp and demanded his unconditional surrender?

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