Turn your glove over

Col. John Klein, official photo, U.S. Air Force

Col. John Klein, official photo, U.S. Air Force

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “Turn your glove over.”

I was tired. And slightly annoyed. For what seemed like the thousandth time, my dad threw the baseball to me as I practiced for the spring season my sixth grade year. My legs ached from squatting into the catcher’s position over and over again. My body dragged from jumping up constantly.

Each time I would snag low pitches with my glove facing down in a backhand position my dad would say, “Turn your glove over.” 

Pitches weren’t that fast at my age and I thought the advice unnecessary as long as I stopped the ball. The technique I currently used served me well in all the previous games.

All I wanted to do was play. What I didn’t realize at that youthful age was that the pitches—and the game—would get faster.

Little by little, however, turning my glove over and shifting in front of wild pitches to knock them down to prevent a pass ball became second nature. I didn’t have to think about it and my dad stopped needing to say it. My hand, arm, and body just moved.

I was being prepared for the countless less-than-perfect pitches that would come my way throughout my baseball career. My dad was preparing me to be a better catcher for the sake of the team.

When the spring season arrived months later, practice paid off. Turning my glove over meant I could knock down stray pitches more effectively and also prepare my second and third motions far earlier. The off-season training made me a more successful ball player.

That season was more than 30 years ago and I’ve carried those lessons with me throughout my career. I am humbled to lead the best wing in the U.S. Air Force, with the most innovative Airmen. We all hold incredible power.

And also incredible potential.

Thus, I tell you this: “Turn your glove over.”

Over the next months, expect to complete training and exercises. We will dedicate hours and days to mission readiness. There will be times when you will ask, “Why am I doing this again? I don’t need this now.”

To which I’ll reply, “You’re right. We don’t need this now. We need it for tomorrow.”

We are creating muscle memory. Certain skills like operating in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear environment and self-aid buddy care should and must become second nature. In the end, what really matters, is your ability to fight and win our nation’s wars. You will not get there if we do not practice the basics.

Make no mistake that our adversaries are looking for ways to capitalize on the fact that we’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years and Iraq for 13. They believe we aren’t thinking about the future.

When I practiced baseball all those years ago, I didn’t realize at the time that it was more than turning my glove over. It also changed my balance and my overall body position. Those hours spent with my dad pushed me to change my perspective.

This is what I’m asking, not just of my leadership team, but every Airman on base. We should focus our efforts on tasks that prepare us to fight and win our nation’s wars. In our business, there is either victory or defeat. It will take strong, authentic and innovative leadership to train our Airmen for tomorrow’s fight. I know I am asking a lot of you, but unlike baseball, we cannot afford lose.