John Boyd’s Roll Call: Do You Want to Be Someone or Do Something?

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 22, 2014 · 46 comments

in A Man's Life


According to his biographer, Robert Coram, John Boyd made “more contributions to fighter tactics, aircraft design, and the theory of air combat than any man in Air Force history.”

As a fighter pilot, he was undefeated and earned the nickname “40-Second Boyd” for his ability to win any dogfight in under a minute.

Unmatched in the cockpit, his mind was also without rival. He was not simply a warrior of combat, but a warrior-engineer and warrior-philosopher.

When he was 33, he wrote “Aerial Attack Study,” which codified the best dogfighting tactics for the first time, became the “bible of air combat,” and revolutionized the methods of every air force in the world.

His Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory helped give birth to the legendary F-15, F-16, and A-10 aircraft.

A briefing he developed, “Patterns of Conflict,” changed combat strategy for both airmen and ground troops, introduced the oft-cited, and typically misunderstood OODA loop, and “made him the most influential military thinker since Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War 2,400 years ago.”

All in all, John Boyd served in the United States Air Force for twenty-four years and through three wars.

But he was never promoted above colonel.

All because Boyd stubbornly refused to compromise his principles and ideals for advancement.

A Fork in the Road

Even though Boyd joined the military at a young age – dropping out of high school as a junior to join the Army Air Corps during World War II – he was never a good fit for America’s fighting forces.

It’s not that he didn’t have a head for combat strategy and methods. Quite the opposite. When he earned his wings, his fellow pilots considered him such a “good stick” they constantly went to him for tips and ideas on how they could improve. So he started writing informal briefs, drawing up diagrams on handling skills and air-to-air combat techniques, and holding ad hoc classes for the interested. This led to a gig as instructor and then Director of Academics at the highly elite Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force base just outside Las Vegas. There he set about completely overhauling the tactics curriculum. Aerial tactics had previously been a kind of art passed down from pilot to pilot; Boyd set out to develop and codify the very best techniques — to turn dogfighting into a science.

Boyd, however, didn’t quite fit at the institution. He wasn’t the classic soldier who would follow orders to a tee simply because they were orders. A military officer is expected to be well-disciplined, deferential to superiors, and a defender of the status quo. Boyd was none of these things. Aerial tactics hadn’t changed much since WWI, but not everyone was happy to see them challenged – they liked doing things they way they had always been done. But Boyd would not back down when he knew he was right.

The intensity of his convictions and his confrontational style earned him the nicknames “The Mad Major” and “Genghis John.” Boyd constantly flirted with the very edge of outright insubordination, and he knew it. He was fond of saying, “You gotta challenge all assumptions. If you don’t, what is doctrine on day one becomes dogma forever after.”

Boyd’s mix of brilliance and brashness made him a truly polarizing figure within the ranks. In his performance reviews, some of his superiors criticized his manners and lack of deference, while others called him the most talented and dedicated officer they had ever known. The former tried to sabotage his career, while the latter worked to keep him in the ranks, and Boyd at first felt sure his supporters would win the day.

So when he was passed over for a promotion that was instead given to some inconsequential but compliant paper-pushers, Coram writes that Boyd was “deeply affected” by the blow:

“This was a pivotal event in his career, as well as a personal epiphany. Often, when a man is young and idealistic, he believes that if he works hard and does the right thing, success will follow. This was what Boyd’s mother and childhood mentors had told him. But hard work and success do not always go together in the military, where success is defined by rank, and reaching higher rank requires conforming to the military’s value system. Those who do not conform will one day realize that the path of doing the right thing has diverged from the path of success, and then they must decide which path they will follow through life. Almost certainly, he realized that if he was not promoted early to lieutenant colonel after all that he had done, he would never achieve high rank.”

Many officers quit when they realize they won’t be able to reach the top of the hierarchy. But Boyd hadn’t joined the military to accumulate insignia on his uniform; he was driven by the desire to “change people’s fundamental understanding of aviation” and sincerely wanted to make a significant, lasting contribution to warfare and the world. The Air Force was a highly imperfect channel to do so, but the best possible one. He understood that the best way to change an institution is oftentimes not to drop out and rail against it from the outside, but to stay in and work to transform it from the inside. And his work was far from finished.

To Be or Do

After Nellis, Boyd was assigned to the Pentagon, an atmosphere even less suited to his temperament. As Coram notes, it is a place for careerists – blue suiters as they’re called. Getting ahead inside “The Building” involves equal doses of butt-kissing and back-stabbing and success if often measured in winning the maximum amount of dollars for one’s own branch of service. One false move can torpedo your career.

Boyd wasn’t about to sell his soul, though. And he wasn’t intimidated by the fact that as a 39-year-old major, everyone else in the building was higher in rank and longer in the tooth.

He worked tirelessly to improve the military’s aircraft, and especially hated the blank check attitudes of his superiors that often came with lackadaisical mindsets towards the design and efficiency of the planes. Because Boyd sincerely believed that he worked for the American taxpayer, he not only enjoyed putting the kibosh on bloated budgets, but positively relished it. He took so much delight in picking apart deceptive data and “hosing” generals, that friends would buy him garden hoses as a gag gift on his birthday. He once burned a hole in one general’s tie, after he cornered him and started poking him with his lit cigar while arguing for one of his ideas. He made another general literally foam at the mouth and fall out of his chair while talking to him on the phone.

Boyd had left a long line of enemies in his wake, and it was thus no great surprise that he was ultimately passed over for promotion to general. Having offended so many of them, they refused to allow him to join their rarefied ranks. Boyd was deeply disappointed. But he was proud of the course he had chosen. When he had gotten to the crossroad where institutional success and doing the right thing diverge, he chose to do what was right. It was a philosophy he would espouse to his Acolytes (a group of his mentees) as they weighed whether to work for him and help do something important, but have their careers retarded for the association, or to keep their nose down and work their way up the ranks. “Tiger,” he would say, “one day you will come to a fork in the road:”

“And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that 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 you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

Which Way Will You Go?

There comes a point in every man’s life where he must decide if he will strive to be somebody important, or if he will work to do something important. Sometimes these pursuits go hand-in-hand; often they do not.

Research has shown time and time again that kids of our modern age aspire for what’s perceived as a more glamorous life than one of service and lasting legacy. In fact, the top three career aspirations of today’s 5- to 11-year-olds are sports star, music star, and actor. Just 25 years ago, that same survey turned up teacher, doctor, and banker. Young people want to be recognized, to be famous, and very early on pick up the fact that the path to celebrity (not to mention government service) largely involves telling people what they want to hear — packaging up what’s already popular and selling it back. For it’s not just the military that prizes the status quo; while society is supposedly more tolerant than ever, any nail that pops up from the mainstream very quickly gets hammered down. In our digital age, the righteous online mob can quickly mobilize and silence any opinion considered aberrant. The result is a chilling effect where people have to watch every word they say lest it be publicly trounced upon.

Even the field of science is not immune to this trend. Getting one’s studies not only published in academic journals, but picked up in popular media publications can lead to lucrative book deals and speaking engagements, while working on research with even a hint of controversy can lead to a firestorm of criticism. When it was revealed that a prominent social psychologist had completely fabricated studies that purported to show things like littered environments increase racist tendencies, he admitted that he would try to come up with experiments and results that seemed original and exciting, and yet also flattered people’s preconceived expectations. In explaining his ethical lapses, he pointed to the fact that modern scientists, in competing for funding and admiration, have been forced to become both researchers and marketers – “traveling salesman” skilled in the art of persuasion. This has set up a situation where recognition is sometimes sought at the expense of truth.

Challenging the status quo is never easy. You may not be worried about winning fame, but simply holding onto your job. College students, schooled in the importance of cultivating their “personal brand” are understandably fearful of doing or saying anything that may make them less desirable to employers in a slow economy. This is why the ability to speak truth to power has always necessarily been tied to an indifference to material security. As Coram writes, Boyd understood this, and said that “if a man can reduce his needs to zero, he is truly free: there is nothing that can be taken from him and nothing anyone can do to hurt him.” His extreme frugality earned him the nickname “The Ghetto Colonel,” and throughout his life he lived in a tiny apartment and ran his clunker cars into the ground. This Spartan lifestyle was tough on Boyd’s family; when it comes to risking one’s career in order to rock the boat, fathers admittedly have a tougher line to walk. Yet plenty of the children of history’s greatest firebrands are, despite the sacrifices their dads’ stances involved, extremely proud of the legacy and name they left them.

As you ponder what you would do when faced with the decision of choosing to pursue the right and meaningful or the popular, we’ll leave you with this stirring message former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave during a commencement speech at the Air Force Academy. It applies as well to the cadets sitting in the audience that day as it does to all men reading it now:

“Here at the Air Force Academy, as with every university and company in America, there’s a focus on teamwork, consensus-building, and collaboration. Yet make no mistake, the time will come for each of you when you must stand alone in making a difficult, unpopular decision; when you must challenge the opinion of superiors or tell them that you can’t get the job done with the time and resources available; or when you will know that what superiors are telling the press or the Congress or the American people is inaccurate. There will be moments when your entire career is at risk – where you will face Boyd’s proverbial fork in the road. To be or to do.

To be ready for that moment, you must have the discipline to cultivate integrity and moral courage from here at the Academy, and then from your earliest days as a commissioned officer. Those qualities do not suddenly emerge fully developed overnight or as a revelation after you have assumed important responsibilities. These qualities have their roots in the small decisions you will make here and early in your career and must be strengthened all along the way to allow you to resist the temptation of self before service. And you must always ensure that your moral courage serves the greater good: that it serves what is best for the nation and our highest values – not a particular program nor pride nor parochialism.”

Roll call time: To be or to do? Which way will you go?



Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff January 22, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Although maybe not a choice between career and moral authenticity, I am facing a fork in the road myself. I am graduating from Uni soon, and have job oppurtunities in my line of work on the other side of the globe. I also met a fantastic girl this last year. I cannot expect her to wait for me as I chase a career in another timezone.
It is roll call time for me at this moment.

2 Joseph January 22, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Good stuff.

“Leadership is not a position…it is a choice.”

– Stephen Covey

3 the pensive cartographer January 22, 2014 at 9:57 pm

This came along at exactly the right time for me. Thank you much & keep up the good work.

4 Dave Drown January 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Brett & Kate – absolutely perfect timing for me with this piece. Thank you so much! Without too many details, I’m at a point in my career where I’m becoming frustrated with the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. Starting to raise a few hackles with my persistence, this empowers me to keep on pushing. Thanks again.

5 Great Gig in the Sky January 22, 2014 at 10:21 pm

thank you. I needed to hear this.

6 R J Vincent January 22, 2014 at 10:23 pm

I read John Boyd’s biography. Interesting guy. I worked with someone at a local air museum who flew with him and told me he’s was pretty much as described in the book.

7 Edward January 22, 2014 at 10:46 pm

What a great article. My dad, a Korean War Army Veteran always told me that “Son, doing right is not always easy…but it’s right.” That has been a guiding principle in my life.

8 Gene January 23, 2014 at 12:01 am

I’ve got a fork in the road right now. I’m done with college, and I’ve been offered a comfortable banking job with good money, good benefits, and a fast track for advancement. But I’ve never dreamed of crafting loan packages or corporate banking bids…I’ve always dreamed of being a military aviator. I’ve been praying like never before and God has been pretty clear with his instructions, but there’s a fork in the road and I’ve got to choose which way I’m going to go. Thanks for the fantastic article…it’s something I really needed to read.

9 Tobias Hommerich January 23, 2014 at 1:19 am

Corams Book about Boyd deserves the Pulitzer-prize in my eyes.Its the most fascinating book about the “dryest” topics I´ve ever read combined with a hero-story unmatched,unchallanged (sadly) and unheard(sadly) of!It makes you so curious to learn more about what Boyd was thinking about, that you´ll end up buying 5 other books to really understand what its all about.Its mindblowing stuff and in my eyes it should be a must-read for every American.Boyd´s life is a reminder that there are people in the world who are not bending under pressure and who are going through hell and back to defend their principles.For me Boyds thinking has changed a lot of things personally and he is a hughe role model.You bet I´ll try to teach his values to my kids.

10 Andrea January 23, 2014 at 6:50 am


As a new teacher, I am struggling to find a place between impressing my administrators, and doing what is right for my students. This is a good reminder that what earns me the most approval is not always right.

11 Jason Lancaster January 23, 2014 at 6:54 am

This is an amazing piece. I find that “Doing” is harder than “Being” but at the same time the legacy left is more powerful and impactful.

12 M. Catlett January 23, 2014 at 7:16 am

I enjoyed this immensely. Occurs to me that people often focus on being a happy person without realizing the doing involved; it’s far better to do what’s important and what you enjoy as the road to some point of being is… doing. Being is the desert mirage one treks toward in the doing, or something like that. :)

13 E. Jason McGhee January 23, 2014 at 7:30 am

Yet another great article on how to tackle life’s toughest choices. The path to power and the path to influence are not always on the same road.

14 Shawn January 23, 2014 at 8:59 am

I read that biography of Boyd and, while there is no doubt he was brilliant, he was the type of brilliant that is borderline insane. His family life was a trainwreck and while it’s clear that his military analyses were exquisite, there are ways to get things done and ways to not get things done. It doesn’t matter how right you are and how wrong your boss is, when you tell him he’s an idiot to his face – and in so many words, you’re going to lose. That’s true both within and outside of the military. In fact: probably more true outside.

Which leads me to another point: I have a twenty-two year military career spanning thirty years of my life. From my experiences serving in the Marine Corps and the Army, I haven’t seen the the upper-echelon blinders and dogged institutional conformity Boyd encountered. However, I’ve worked closely with the Air Force on occasion and I can that it may be part of the their culture.

15 Eric January 23, 2014 at 9:32 am

This was a great article that came at the perfect time for me.

16 Ethan January 23, 2014 at 9:33 am

One of the reason I left the army is because the public sector is an embarrassment. Today, even the private sector is heavily held down by a public bureaucracy, and it is hard to find good companies that only care about quality and making the customer happy. We have to get away from the idea of having “superiors” for the sake of “superiors”. Leaders must exist yes, but leadership must take form naturally and voluntarily.

17 Alexander January 23, 2014 at 9:34 am

If you think she’s the one, go for it. I did the same when I was in school, and it has all been tough as hell, but all worth it 7 years later. Jobs come and go, mate.

@Brett & Kate
As usual, thank you guys. A tough topic to broach, but one that deserves the attention of such a site and community as this. To be quite honest, I don’t know if I could put my own honor above my family’s economic needs. But then again, despite my being perfectly cut out for service in many respects, I decided that a military life was not for me due to reasons such as this – the military, quite unfortunately, is one of the largest bureaucracies on earth, and suffers from all the symptoms such a large organization usually does. That’s one reason why the digital economy that we have today is so exciting – there are so many opportunities to live true to yourself, while making money simultaneously…not that much unlike what you guys have been able to do with AoM.

18 JD January 23, 2014 at 10:07 am

I’m in the AFROTC right now so this article is especially relevant. Thanks for articles like these, there aren’t many articles worth reading posted on the Internet anymore. Keep inspiring men to be better and reminding them what being a man really means.

19 Charles Harris January 23, 2014 at 10:11 am

Thank you for another outstanding article. As a gospel preacher what I say is not always easy on the ears. It can be very tempting to compromise the truth in order to please others. However, I do not preach to please others. I preach to please God. Thank you for the reminders.

20 Cheryl Wilson January 23, 2014 at 11:40 am

Astounding article. Interesting that today, Upworthy posted a thought-provoking video lecture by a pop-up celebrity challenging the very notion of celebrity culture, which highlights many of the same issues you bring up here.

21 Paul January 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

@Andrea: You might have heard of this guy already in your teacher preparation curriculum, but I cannot recommend highly enough the story of Jaime Escalate. His story is told by Jay Matthews in his book Escalante: The Best Teacher in America (currently out of print – you might find it on eBay) and in the movie Stand and Deliver. When Escalante immigrated from Bolívia and taught high school mathematics in East Los Angeles, he made a career out of challenging the status quo and making enemies among his fellow teachers and administrators who were jealous of his success. His students were primarily low-income Hispanics, and one incident that brought him national attention was the AP calculus class in 1982 when all his students passed the exam with flying colors – and then were accused of cheating by ETS. They were vindicated after passing the exam a second time. Never mind that he saved his school from losing accreditation…he was a threat to the entire math department. But he was willing to pay the cost of doing the right thing and instilling ganas in his students.

22 Bryan January 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm

This can be a valuable trait, but I have it to a fault. I would like to present the following rules that I have developed for myself to temper it and keep it constructive:
1) Only move for change if you have a clear and convincing case, preferably based on hard data, that your ideas are correct, and then only after you have done a sanity check with your more free-thinking peers. In doing this, we are both checking that we are right and creating a presentable case for our superiors. Nothing worse than spending your influence on what turns out to be a wrong move.
2) Make sure that you understand how the current ideas developed. If you understand the evolution of the situation properly, you can say “We do this, and this is why, and it made sense at the time [Be aware that it almost always did]. Now this has happened, so we should do this other thing instead.”
3) Where there are multiple problems, choose your battles wisely. For me, this usually means putting moral issues before clever improvements.

23 Tom King January 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I read Boyd’s biography several years ago. His story makes me proud that my country can still manage to raise up sons like him even at a time when perfumed princes hold sway in the halls of power. Boyd’s fork in the road is absolutely true. You can do something or be someone “important”, at least by the standards of the herd. His story gives courage to those of us who care about getting good things done over playing the political games. God bless him. Boyd was a brave man.

24 John January 23, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Great article, and perfect timing like so many articles on the Art of Manliness. At 33, and an in house designer, wanting to change the automotive industries view of tech development and feature pushing; daily life gets hard.

Been really mulling over my options about sticking it out or throwing in the towel.

Definitely, have a better view of the situation, as well as my own thoughts thanks to this article.

Again great job guys.


25 Jason January 23, 2014 at 2:46 pm

40-Second Boyd was an amazing pilot and a true icon in the flying world.

If anyone is interested in some more of his heroics and a deeper look into this god among men, take a read through what Eject! Eject! Eject! had to say about him back in 2008.


26 Butter Bar January 23, 2014 at 5:27 pm

As a recent graduate of the US Air Force Academy, I have been exposed to Colonel Boyd’s legacy and his contributions to the Air Force. Admittedly, I never fully appreciated the example he set for all airman. This is a brilliant, insightful article and one all young officers of any branch should read. Thank you! God Bless!

27 Rob January 23, 2014 at 5:54 pm

My grandfather served under Boyd and passed the ‘Be someone or do something’ mantra to my mother and who then passed it to me.

God almighty, it really is a choice. You only get one life to live, and all the things that we do must be done in only that time. I always felt that the mantra was not a choice of right or wrong, black or white. It was a choice of strawberry or vanilla. Meaning, that is what you personally want to do.

28 Gary January 23, 2014 at 6:16 pm

A wonderful article, so many kernels of knowledge and inspiration. It’s so humbling to be able to take pause and reflect on one’s own choices and opportunities. It’s easy to lose sight of the true north on the moral compass in our day to day lives. thank you for giving us all a reminder.

best wishes,

29 Bob January 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I have read the comments here and find them as interesting as the article itself. Anyone who aspires to lead his/her life as John did should read and think about Robert Coram’s book. Two points:

1) One commenter correctly recognized that John’s single-minded focus certainly contributed largely to the wrecked lives of his family. His focus truly was all consuming, and it did ruin some or all the lives of his family.

2) Boyd was not just a crazy man who took on his superiors and their institutions without any forethought and from a position of weakness. When he started showing the inadequacy of our then-modern fighter aircraft in the mid 60s, he did it from a position of authority and strength, even though he was just a major. That strength was his rep as the best air-to-air fighter pilot in the U.S. armed forces AND his ability to convey his principles of combat to other pilots verbally. So what he said carried enormous weight without the technical performance charts he was later famous for. Also, and this is where he really lit up his audiences, he was the most engaging and eloquent speaker I have ever heard. It was very dangerous to disagree with John, or to attempt to upstage him. By the time he got on stage with one of his presentations, or even entered a meeting, he had already gamed the whole thing in his mind many times over. He had already thought through his positions and analyses from every conceivable direction and would always be way ahead of his detractors. If it didn’t serve his purpose, he would just ignore them; if it did, he would cut their legs off in public without regard to rank or position. But he never did it thoughtlessly.

As you can probably guess, I knew Boyd for a long time, first meeting him in 1965 when I was a fresh USAF second lieutenant. The stories in Coram’s book are true. Coram correctly describes John’s penchant for getting right in your face–often about a cigar’s length away–with saliva spouting freely. Although it was initially an alarming experience, we junior officers learned eventually that it was his way of showing that you were important enough that he should make you understand what is right. A friend once described it as, “you know when you have really arrived when you have been spit on by John Boyd.”

30 Bryan January 24, 2014 at 4:10 am

Working a job right now that has an at least halfway decent future, as long as I go with the status quo, which all my coworkers despise, but tolerate. I’ve been trying to decide whether to stick around, or leave the security for something else.

Roll call. Time to answer.

31 Chris January 24, 2014 at 7:34 am

Wow – excellent post.

32 C.G. January 24, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Bravo. Great article.

33 Nikola Gjakovski January 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm

It is really motivating to read someone success story. Good one and I hope everyone grasps their dream like this guy and enhance this world.

34 BD January 24, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Recommend everyone read “The Pentagon Wars” (the book not the movie) written by Col James Burton, USAF, Ret, one of Boyd’s “Acolytes.” It does a great job of showing how Body led and also the political “games” that go on in the Pentagon. The book also includes Boyd’s reading list that was mandatory reading for all his “Acolytes”

35 Matt January 25, 2014 at 12:37 am

Thank you for this article. And, thank you art of manliness for your being. Perfect timing for me. I’ve lived like Boyd in my own way. I’ve gathered a great many exciting stories, and a certain amount of respect. However, I’ve often thought that if I’d only conformed more, I would have achieved more financial freedom. I know my wife believes so. You can read a little about it here if you care.

36 Kevin January 25, 2014 at 6:16 am

Sadly, not much has changed in the Air Force of the military as a whole. Conformity is still king and the higher up the ladder an officer goes, the more risk averse he seems to become.

37 Julie January 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Great article.

Somehow before I read this the best illustration I had for this principle was Scorsese’s The Departed. IMO the central moral question of the film is told by Martin Sheen’s character Queenan, who asks DiCaprio’s character Costigan whether he wants to be a cop or look like a cop. Plenty of people are happy just looking like a cop, he says, but don’t want to go the full length of doing the actual job.
That’s what Costigan does, doing a dangerous, lonely and unrecognized mission that has the only merit of perhaps eventually helping good prevails – while on the other side, Matt Damon’s Sullivan, who looks like a cop, enjoys camaraderie, support and romantic relationships while being only a hollow shell.

Without dwelling on the further meditations on death and whether life choices are futile or not, I think it illustrates well that fork and the choice one has to make between trying to actually do good (or to be good by doing what it takes) or just rejoicing for being one of the “good guys”.

38 Ron January 25, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Actually I have been informed by Col. Boyd’s daughter that Col. Boyd did not drop out of school. He was drafted and his high school graduated him early so he could get about his military service.

39 Scott Sideleau January 25, 2014 at 9:11 pm

As a maritime robiticist, I would much rather /do/ than simply /be/. I enjoy the software development, the travel, and the science.

40 Brian January 26, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Shawn, the problem is, you were in the Army and USMC, i.e ‘the military’ whereas about half the USAF thinks they’re in a corporation. Speaking as a USAF veteran…

Case in point, while deployed I once sat behind an E-8 and a pair of E-3s at a theater commander’s call (not even our theater, but hey, that’s the USAF for you). The two E-3s were adressing the 23+ year E-8 by his first name. No lightning bolts from heaven, no wall to wall counseling, not even a throatpunch or choke hold was applied.
Coming from Security Forces (which at least remembers it came from the Army) i leaned forward and whispered to the two E-3s where the E-8 could hear us that if that had happened in my career field, people would still be looking for their bodies or words to that effect….

The look in their eyes was worth it, though I doubt it cured the issue. Knowing people in my own career field, them failing to address an E-5 as Sergeant would have led to the thunderbolts from heaven….an E-8? They’d be lucky not to get court martialed……

41 Luke January 26, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Just got around to reading the piece. Valuable lessons contained within it. Thank you for sharing Boyd’s insights.

42 Babu Chandran January 27, 2014 at 3:15 am

Makes an interesting reading as I can relate a part of it to my life in the Logistics industry. Many thanks for sharing this with us .

43 Jay January 29, 2014 at 3:07 pm


When picking between a career and a gal at your stage of graduation, reverse the equation.
If she was just graduating and had a splendid offer/career opportunity, what would you do?
If she wouldn’t do the same, then she’s not a keeper.
Remember the Brad Pitt rule.

44 Scott February 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I would rather die a man of honour than a man of wealth or popularity

45 Harrison February 22, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I was in that graduating class from the Air Force Academy when Secretary Gates gave that speech. I was so excited, I had been envisioning that day for many years. Too excited that his words have been lost to me these last few years. But as I read them here I find them appropriate book ends to my time at “the zoo.” The week before I left to go to the Academy my father gave me a copy of Boyd, and his principle of “Be something, not somebody” was a principle that always guided me through my time as a cadet. I was reading that book the very day I entered the Air Force. They are important lessons that I still apply today as I serve. Thank you for reminding me and sharing these ideals with your readers.

46 Lee March 15, 2014 at 7:33 pm

@Gene January 23, 2014
You said “I’ve always dreamed of being a military aviator.” As a US Army veteran, I can tell you that it’s a choice you will never regret. Go for it and God be with you!

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