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My Toughest Day

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Feugate Opperman
  • 320th Missile Squadron commander
My toughest day as a squadron commander came about two months after I took command. It was nothing operational, the 320th was doing (and continues to do) a great job conducting operations in the missile field. My toughest day was the day a member of my squadron was convicted in a court martial for drug use.

Why was this my toughest day? The trial took an emotional toll on both my operations officer at the time, Maj. Deane Konowicz, and me. We spent as much time as our schedules would allow observing the court martial, shifting our focus away from the squadron's primary mission, nuclear command and control. After the trial was complete, I found myself mentally drained and depressed as I watched a first lieutenant throw a promising career away by making a selfish choice to enhance his partying by taking ecstasy. I was also disappointed that both he and several members of the squadron thought the trial was a joke, and they didn't take it seriously until he was found guilty.

Although it was my toughest day, it ultimately led me to some incredible learning opportunities. I learned that sometimes people have such strong friendship bonds, it is hard to realize their friends may make choices deserving punishment. After the lieutenant was sentenced to 30 days in jail, forfeiture of all pay and a dismissal from the Air Force, one of his friends, who was also a member of the 320th, asked me if the jury thought they were actually dismissing the charges, not sentencing him to a bad conduct discharge. I had to fight back my anger as I explained the jury knew full well what they were doing; they were holding him accountable for his actions. Although I was angry, I have to say, my heart broke a little at her innocence. Experiencing that has helped me look at circumstances from not just my own perspective, but other people's point of view to help better understand the situation and make better decisions.

I also learned if you are on the outside, confinement can be a uniquely pleasant place to visit. Let me explain. I went to see my lieutenant each week, but would spend time before and after my morale check talking with the security forces members working in confinement. It was quiet and actually kind of peaceful in their office. I brought our acting first shirt, Master Sgt. Tracy Wallace, with me on one of the visits, and she spent about 20 minutes talking with Senior Airman Rob Anderson about what base he wanted to be stationed at next and how to fill out his dream sheet. It was educational for all of us. The personnel who work in confinement are engaging and fun to spend time around (the prisoners may have a different perspective on this).

Finally, I learned that life goes on and I can't stay focused on my issues for too long because I have an entire squadron that needs me (thankfully most of the time they need me to focus on operational issues). The trial ended on Saturday night, and Sunday morning we had an event occur in the missile field that required all of the 90th Operations Group leadership's attention. Even though it was a negative event; for me, personally, the timing could not have been better and I was thankful for it. It allowed me to stop being so focused on the trial and turn my attention back to the day-to-day operations of the squadron.

I am sure some of you reading this know my toughest day was minor compared to what you have endured, and I know that my greatest challenge may not have come yet. I know command is not easy and we should expect challenges, but I also know that out of the bleakest situations can come learning experiences, leadership lessons, as well as bright spots where you least expect to find them.