Mike Walton (blackeagle)

Who is going to help me now?

By: Posted On: 2019-10-13

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Today is the last day that I answer the phone here in the Arnold Public Affairs office with "Arnold Public Affairs, this is Mike."   I have been promoted and will be working alongside other public affairs professionals at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio in two weeks.

(Don't worry...I'll STILL be here on LinkedIn(TM) and elsewhere as much as my new job and personal time will allow me to do so!)

We ask (okay, I ask) Eagle candidates "How have you applied the Scouting principles in your day-to-day life?" and we patiently listen to them um and ah and finally tell us things which if their parents were present or if their Scoutmaster was present, the words would NEVER come out of their mouths.  How they fought against bullies and those mean-spirited at their schools and rose up above them in resolving issues  -- or just surviving as a high school student.  How they reached back, grab ahold of and brought others to come along with them and not be tempted so much with "the easy way," the "wrong way" or "the destructive way" as one candidate explained it to us.  How they really applied what they mouth each week at Scouts on Monday to what they do on Tuesday and the rest of the week at school, in town, at church, and in other situations. 

I am confident that Scouting -- Boy Scouting -- has in great part raised a lot of young men with thoughts of their own, grounded in the principles of the "three and twelve" (the three parts of the Scout Oath or Promise; the 12 points of the Scout Law)and enhanced by their parental guidance, examples observed from their Scoutmasters and other adults, and in two Scouts' cases, "that Book I keep in my daypack with the Scout handbook." One Scout explained, "when I come across something I don't really understand or need a second opinion on, I just open my Bible. Funny how that thing knows what I'm looking for..."

So for THEIR benefit; and for the benefit of those of you in business who feel that that "Scout rules are just that -- Scout rules," here's how I have been applying the "three and 12" in MY daily life here while here at Arnold for the past five years.  It's not hard.

My primary job was to backstop my boss.  Whether I am his "Deputy" or "Operations" Chief, my job was to be there when he's not and to give him valued opinions and advice so he may make the final decision; and if he is not there to make that final decision to act upon those decisions keeping in mind his vision and guidance.

A Scout is Loyal.  A Scout is also Brave, for many times I have to be the guy to provide the "downside" to a potential decision...to give him all of his options and the fallout from them, even if it makes me look bad.  My job wasn't about me -- it was making my boss look good to his peers and especially his boss.

The key secondary job I had here was to engage with the public.  I did that through our Facebook page, our public website, and its content, and through our bi-weekly newspaper called the "High Mach."  Mostly, I am the point person who answers between 11 and 20 voice calls daily (and returns about five or six more calls left over the weekend).

My workmates have constantly been asking me, "Who is going to take all of those phone calls after you are gone?" I don't have an answer for them.

A Scout, for starters, is Helpful.  Even though our website has a large red telephone button on its home page, and by clicking on that button will take you to a full page of directory listings -- people will STILL go to the bottom of that same webpage and call the public affairs office and ask for that same information they can get themselves.   When I ask them how did they get my phone number, they lie and tell me, "it's the first one that comes up when I go to your page on the Internet."

Perhaps I need to make that button glow or blink or something like that.  A Scout is Cheerful.  Every phone call -- even the ones in which the person on the other end of the line is cussing me, the Air Base, the Air Force, the President, and anyone else he could think of -- because "the Air Force flew over my house and knocked down everything off the walls...why do you have to fly so damned low?"  gets a smile and a complete answer from me:

"No sir, we don't have any aircraft which flies. The only aircraft we have on this base are on static display outside our main gates.  We don't even have an airstrip for anything to take off or land from here, sir."

"The Air Force calls us an Air Force Base because of the scope of the missions we have here and the number of assigned personnel.  We are one of the smaller Air Force bases around the world, but not the smallest."

"No Ma'am, I can give you a number whereby you can report a UFO sighting, but I'll be honest with you:  there's nothing sensitive here which aliens or anyone else would want here unless they are looking to see how we test jet engine components and models of various military and civilian aerospace vehicles."

"We are out here between three small towns to keep the noise from our engine testing low as not to disturb the people in Tullahoma, Winchester, and Manchester."

A Scout is FriendlyCourteous and Kind when delivering those answers -- and others.  Even if I cannot give them the telephone number for someone who used to work here but he retired and "I know you have a database somewhere with his current address and phone number in case you need to call him back up or something...", I am as upfront as I can be in explaining that I don't have that information and cannot access anything like that, and it's against the Privacy Act of 1974 for me to even try to find and give that kind of information without their written permission.   I refer them to the Base Operator ("You're NOT the Base Operator?  I thought I was contacting the Base Operator...what's their number?").

Obedience only goes so far, thank Goodness.  I've had several people to direct me to take my information and shove it.  But I do take others' instructions to "have a good one," "Thank you and have a great day" and my favorite, "You should tell your people they should pay you more for putting up with people like me.  Bless you.  Thank you. " 

I have never had to resort to language which would not be approved by my Grandmother if she was still alive; or my parents, let alone my boss or my workmates.  So a Scout is Clean even though that's the hardest point for me to maintain some days. 

When someone asks me to call them back and follow up with whatever information I have found for them, I demonstrate my ability to be Trustworthy as well as maintaining the person's confidence in our office and what we project to the public as well.  Even if the answer is "I don't have an answer for you" or "I'm sorry, I am unable to give you any more information than what I have already provided",  I show my value to the office and to the person who calls (which is why sometimes people will call and if I don't answer the phone, they will leave two and three minute messages explaining their situation).

The toughest calls I had to respond to over my five-year tenure here have been those dealing with the death of a spouse or family member connected somehow to Arnold or the Air Force.  I average about two of those calls each month.  I listen patiently and with a great deal of compassion -- sometimes bowing my head and participating in a prayer rendered by the family member -- because to them, I  (by extension the Air Force) is their family, possibly the only true one they have now.  I give them the number for our Family Assistance office, our Retiree office, and our Personnel office so that the appropriate paperwork could be filed.   A Scout is Reverent.

I don't get paid extra for this. It is a proud part of my job, and I am happy to have been able to perform it to my boss's satisfaction.  It -- listening and assisting in resolving issues -- is part of what I'm good at.  I have real-life experience in it.  Some days it is funny, like when the city of Chattanooga asked for "the Arnold Air Force Band" to come to perform at some event (we don't have enough military people assigned to staff a varsity level football team!) ; or when someone asked if they could land their helicopter on our helipad (we don't have a permanent helipad; in emergent situations, there are several locations whereby helicopters can land);  or if we had flight tours (we own no flyable aircraft nor the flightline they can fly from);  or if we had Army Rangers or Navy SEALS on our base (we don't) and what kinds of training do they do.

Other times it was serious as in those many times I had to tell people who call that we do not have a hospital here, even though we are an Air Force Base;  that our police force is all civilianized; that we do not have a gas station or a "shop" on our base -- and the closest gas station is 12 miles from the main gate or 15 miles from the Interstate exit; that it takes a special ID badge to gain entrance to our base in addition to the standard military ID;  that Arnold is NOT a "secret installation" but some of the projects we do work on here are sensitive or classified.

No, the Men and Women in Black don't reside here.  We drink Jack and George (Daniels and Dickels, whiskeys both made here in the area),  Sun Drop and sweet tea.   We love some good BBQ.  We love all kinds of music and bring the music world to us once a year for something called Bonnaroo.   It is a great place to live, meet people, raise families, and become part of the community within. 

I will miss it all.  I don't know who will help you now after the close of business today.  Sorry. You'll have to use that large red telephone on our website  (http://www.arnold.af.mil) to find someone to answer your questions now.

That, Scouts and Scouters, is how I apply the Scout Law in my daily life.  Not every point every day, but it's pretty close to it.

(I could not match up being Thrifty to my work performance.  Just so you know that I do 11 of 12 on a consistent basis.  Maybe someone who knows me and what I've been doing can come up with an example of that point for me!)





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