Did you learn anything?

Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, official photo, U.S. Air Force

Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, official photo, U.S. Air Force

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Some of my best memories growing up came from spending time on my grandparent’s farm in rural Indiana.

In my eyes, my grandfather was the smartest guy on the planet. He could always explain how things worked and had the capability to fix or build anything. As a boy, whatever my grandfather was working on, I wanted to be there next to him doing the same thing.

During one particular routine construction project, I got a chance to wield a hammer for the first time.  As you would imagine, my grandfather’s extensive experience led to a near flawless demonstration of how to nail two boards together—a couple taps of his hammer on the nail between his fingers to get it started, followed by three large swings and he was done.

My turn. After five or six little starter taps of my own, I swung the hammer right onto my thumb.  Without missing a beat, my grandfather says “Did you learn anything?”  Keep in mind my concept of learning at this young age came only from a classroom in grade school so I, while clutching my throbbing thumb, quickly responded, “Not really.”  His response rings in my brain to this day: “Too bad. That’s a lot of pain to go through for nothing.”

Time and time again, as I grew up and made mistakes, I was asked that same sarcastic question. I got smarter, though. I quickly learned to reply “yes,” to which my grandfather would then retort, “Good. I guess it’s worth it if you learned something.”

As a teenager, I didn’t fully understand the life lesson that was being bestowed upon me. I just thought my grandfather was trying to be funny. However as an adult, I have a fond appreciation for the power of learning from my mistakes.

One of my favorite quotes about failure was from Thomas Edison who said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison didn’t see his mistakes as failures, they were simply lessons learned.

Likewise, the United States Air Force has become the most powerful air force in the history of mankind, largely due to how we view mistakes and what some would classify as failures. Aircrews are known for making the time to debrief after missions, others conduct a “hot wash” after a significant exercise or temporary duty yonder. Ever notice the link in the portal titled “Air Force Lessons Learned,” or did you know Air Mobility Command has a whole directorate dedicated to analyzing and capturing lessons learned?

We all read the news. We know we live in tumultuous times and can appreciate the necessity to be ready to answer our nation’s call.  Here at Travis, we just concluded a readiness exercise, our base’s method of choice to bolster readiness.

For many, especially our first-term Airmen, this may have been their first time mobilizing or executing their portion of an installation deployment plan.  Take the time to capture the lessons learned, embrace the mistakes as opportunities to learn and share them in your unit.

I will admit, our endeavor is challenging, frustrating and, yes, at times, painful, but by no means impossible. There will be more exercises in our future and after the last “endex” is sounded, my question to you is: Did you learn anything? If not, that was a lot of pain to go through for nothing.