(Editor's note: Then Lt. Col. E. John Teichert first published this commentary in 2008 while he served as Director of Operations, 411th FLTS at Edwards Air Force Base.)
After reading any edition of the base newspaper, it's easy to recognize that significant work occurs in every corner of this base, and for that matter, this valley.
As one who has been away from the test world for two years, it is readily apparent that the developmental and operational testing done here has a substantial impact on our nation's warfighting capability. This scope of influence makes our efforts truly unique and demands an understanding of the immense responsibility the United States has entrusted to each and every one of us for its well-being.
The crux of our impact is the enviable position of test in the life-cycle of a weapon system or strategic concept. While operators are involved with their weapon system when it is already established and fraught with the inertia that makes change difficult, testers deal with weapon systems at a stage with far fewer momentum pitfalls. Test professionals can make inputs into a system while changes are relatively cheap, easy, and broader reaching. Eastern strategist Francois Jullien writes that "the best strategy is to tackle situation at the stage when it is easy" and at a moment that demands less effort. It is at such a moment that test professionals routinely find themselves, giving them critical influence in our nation's strategic success. Sun-Tzu even contends that following such a path of least resistance is the "regulator of victory and defeat."
Leadership is primarily about influence. Thus, developmental and operational testing demands an appreciation of the influential test leadership role. Test professionals have the critical and important opportunity to exert leadership with an impact that transcends the individual squadron level, instead impacting entire weapon system communities. While this leadership may go unnoticed because the results are often several years removed from test leadership inputs, we should all carry a distinct satisfaction about the regular contributions we make for the future American warfighter. In fact, Eastern thinking contends that the best leaders act so early in a process that they receive no notoriety because eventual victory appears both inevitable and easy. Air, space, and cyberspace successes during combat operations of the recent past demonstrate that test professionals have indeed acted as great leaders. In fact, Sun-Tzu regards such unassuming and selfless leadership as "the state's treasure." With this in mind, test professionals must appreciate their often unrecognized leadership roles and carefully apply their substantial responsibilities.
Armed with influence and positioned with temporal advantage, test professionals shoulder tremendous responsibility. General Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff for the U.S. Air Force, first Chief of Staff Vector demands that the United States "restore [its] reputation in the acquisition field." In order to meet this challenge, we all must recognize that test and acquisition credibility requires embracing an important supporting role, constantly considering operational needs, and wisely administering the resources with which we have been entrusted.
Weapon system advocates must also recognize that no single system will win a war on its own, escaping the biases of individual communities and aggressively pursuing integration with other platforms, other services, and other nations. Such integration, like change in general, is most easily accomplished early in the process.
We must relish the opportunity to serve as warriors supporting warriors, responsible for a critical aspect of support that has long-term ramifications. If we fail to properly perform our role, the needed change may be technically impossible or financially prohibitive.
A keen eye, a sound mind, and a proper appreciation should guide our paths as we continue to embrace our critical role in the nation's strategic success.