SECDEF Gates honors John Boyd

 An unconventional era of warfare requires unconventional thinkers.

It’s a cliché that Boyd would never receive his due from The Establishment. So it is with great pleasure that I can report that the Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, paid a stirring tribute to John today at Maxwell Air Force Base.

Here is the section where he refers to Boyd (the complete text is available from DefenseLink).

Let me illustrate using a historical exemplar, the late Air Force Colonel John Boyd. As a 30-year-old Captain, he rewrote the manual for air to air combat. Boyd and the reformers he inspired would later go on to design and advocate for the F-16 and the A-10.

After retiring, he would develop the principles of maneuver warfare that were credited by a former Marine Corps commandant and a secretary of Defense for the lightning victory in the first Gulf War.

Boyd’s contributions will resonate today. Many of you have studied the concept he developed called the OODA loop, and I understand there’s an OODA Loop Street here at Maxwell, near the B-52.

But in accomplishing all these things, Boyd, who was a brilliant, eccentric and stubborn character, had to overcome a large measure of bureaucratic resistance and institutional hostility.

He had some advice that he used to pass on to his colleagues and subordinates that is worth sharing with you. Boyd would say — and I quote — “One day you will take a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises, and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club, and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go the other way, and you can do something, something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments, and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors, but you won’t have to compromise yourself. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.”

For the kinds of challenges America faces and will face, the armed forces will need principled, creative, reform-minded leaders, men and women who, as Boyd put it, want to do something, not be somebody.

An unconventional era of warfare requires unconventional thinkers. That is because this era’s range of security challenges, from global terrorism to ethnic conflicts, from rogue nations to rising powers, cannot be overcome by traditional military means alone. Conflict will be fundamentally political in nature and will require the integration of all elements of national power. Success, to a large extent, will depend less on imposing one’s will on the enemy or putting bombs on targets, though we must never lose our ability or our will to unsheathe the sword when necessary. Instead, ultimate success or failure will increasingly depend more on shaping the behavior of others, friends and adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between.

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