Courageous Command: Beyond Battlefield Boldness
An Approach to Balancing Risk in a Politically Correct Climate
Ask an American to paint portraits of courage and you will see images of our nation’s military men and women. My own gallery includes Airmen I commanded who displayed courage under fire, a compatriot in our OCF Bible study who gave his life flying the skies of Ghazni Province, and his widow, who still serves in the Air Force today.
I think of these courageous Airmen in light of our nation’s politically correct culture and I wonder: does our leadership courage match the battlefield boldness of those we lead? Paralyzed by apprehension and unwilling to step out of safe shelters, some of us avoid leadership risks because of skyrocketing personal and professional costs. But those we lead, who trust us with their lives, need our courageous leadership. Despite the hazards leaders must navigate, it’s our duty as Christians and as officers to lead courageously by trusting God’s call on us.
A few years ago, I commanded a squadron with less than five percent female Airmen. Carrying out construction and emergency response duties, I was frequently broached by the curious and outspoken about the topics of gender roles and faith. One experienced craftsman awkwardly confessed, “We’re all surprised you know something about construction and leadership. We figured you were put here for a quota or something. But you seem competent and interested in what we’re doing. We’re trying to figure you out!” In another case, a depressed Airman wondered aloud: “What makes you so happy all the time?”
All officers face minefields in leadership. Conventional wisdom advises playing it safe, avoiding sensitive topics. But I felt had to navigate those minefields of gender roles and faith. And I soon began to view them as the niche of my calling as a Christian officer and as places of opportunity with the most potential to glorify God.
In our world of political correctness, military indoctrination sometimes blinds us to higher moral callings. Officers are charged with caring for the comprehensive fitness of each warrior we lead, their physical, social, mental—and spiritual health. Some leaders never consider their responsibility to facilitate meeting spiritual needs; others choose to ignore it.
Sometimes it’s not being blinded to moral responsibility, but struggling with our own beliefs on sensitive topics. Concerning gender roles in the workplace, many of us wrestle with issues ranging from who can serve to how we interact and respect one another in God-honoring ways. We Christians can all agree on some central biblical truths. God created us male and female (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4), with equal value, but not the same. Our strengths, weaknesses and psychological needs differ (Titus 2).
When we won’t acknowledge these differences, we fail to paint an accurate picture of God. We also miss opportunities to affirm the value of those we lead, address personal crises (often rooted in poor spiritual health), diffuse tension in the workplace, and build the best team possible for our nation’s defense. By not settling for the politically correct culture of androgyny, we bring glory to God when we have the courage to honor His created order.
Since we are unlikely to reverse law, policy or service culture, we must find effective ways to work within established laws and policies, including those on gender and faith. Whether we agree or disagree with policies on who serves in the military or who fills combat positions, as military officers we must accept the team our nation gives us. Neglecting a soul we are charged to lead is unproductive.
I developed and use eight points to navigate the leadership minefields I face: identify the truth or moral responsibility, accept the situation, know the battlefield, remain alert, anticipate the battles, choose a course of action, act, and accept personal responsibility.
Our leadership choices and actions may have career or life-changing implications. As with all aspects of servant-leadership, though, it’s not about us! It’s about focusing on those we lead and their needs. Take heart if you’re struggling with courage while facing your particular leadership minefields. The Bible says that wrestling is part of our walk with God (Romans 7:15-20); the Holy Spirit is working to keep our eyes open to opportunities for God’s glory.
Only by trusting God and His plan for our lives can we lead courageously in our duty as both officers and Christians. It’s time to build a strategy that calculates the risks of leadership minefields and faces them with a moral courage that matches the bravery of those we lead on the battlefield.
Mandy is an engineer who has worked in research and development as well as construction and emergency response. She and her husband, Lt Col Paul Birch, USAF, both completed squadron command at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC. They now live in Washington D.C. and both work in the Pentagon.