It is often said that nothing good happens after midnight. That saying held true for me as a battalion commander. One dark February night at Fort Campbell I received a call from a flight crew at 0200 hours. During night vision goggle (NVG) training, a set of aviation NVGs had accidently fallen out of an aircraft. The U.S. aviator night vision systems were extremely expensive and highly sought after by both our friends and adversaries. In the wrong hands, the goggles could do serious harm to our technological advantage.
Missing, lost, gone, unaccounted for – whatever the word used — the lack of accountability of a high dollar item, triggered a series of events including immediate notification to the Brigade Commander, Division Commander and the XVIII Airborne Corps Emergency Operations Center. For our battalion, it meant standing down what we were doing and putting a 100% concentrated effort on recovering the goggles.
In the middle of the night there was no stand down. In fact, the task was the exact opposite – getting folks to stand up – to wake up and begin the search. Finding a set of night vision goggles, a device six inches by four inches in size, a set that had “accidentally fallen out of the aircraft somewhere over the Fort Campbell Reservation”, would be a daunting task by any measure. The Fort Campbell Reservation covers over 100,000 square kilometers: the goggles could be anywhere.
I called my Battalion Command Sergeant Major and Executive Officer to prepare a search plan. As I got ready to leave our quarters, my husband “warmly” offered, “Don’t worry. You’ll find them!” I thought, “Right. You who get to go back to sleep.”
When I arrived at the battalion, a search party made up of the full flight company had been assembled. The young Soldiers, who obviously had been hastily awakened, had no idea why they were at the hangar this time in the morning. The 1SG was explaining to them how a set of aviation goggles had fallen out of the aircraft during night flight operations. Their task would be to find the goggles. As I looked at their dejected faces and the hopelessness in their eyes, I knew I had to say something. Much to my surprise the first words I said were those of my husband’s, “Don’t worry. We will find them.” (These words had stuck in my mind. They were a seed of hope.) I saw the Soldiers visibly square off their shoulders and stand a little taller. They got it. “Don’t worry. We will find them.”
The power of positive words! Those words put us into the right frame of mind. Science tells us that we perform significantly better when we are in a positive state of being. We had to start our search with an attitude that would at least attract a positive outcome. The last thing we needed was to quit before we even had started.
Fortunately, this story had a good outcome. We started our search at the last known place of accountability of the goggles — a huge landing zone located close to the airfield. Standing side by side, we began our sweep of the field. After hours of searching, walking shoulder to shoulder with only flashlights to guide us, we found the night vision goggles. What a glorious sound when we heard a soldier cry out, “Stop, I think I just hit something!” All flashlights went to the sound of his voice, then to his feet. And there on the frozen ground, amongst the stubble of cut hay, was the most beautiful site – a set of night vision goggles!
How many times do we look at a task and feel defeated or want to quit before we even start? A positive attitude can set the conditions to foster a positive outcome. A significant part of leadership is to swallow misgivings, paint a realistic picture of the desired outcome and with a positive mindset…”get ‘er done.”