December 21, 1998 - a brisk winter day in Saudi Arabia. I was stationed on my first combat deployment, flying missions to enforce the Iraqi southern no-fly zone. Inexperienced and quite nervous, I was scheduled to take off on only the fourth combat sortie of my career. It was a mission I'll never forget.
I was flying that day with my flight lead, Lt. Col. "Hos" Hyatt, the commander of the 79th Fighter Squadron Tigers. Our "2 ship" of F-16s were charged with "sanitizing" the airspace of any enemy aircraft that might be crossing the restricted area. It was a routine patrol. Or not.
Suddenly, our radios blared with an urgent call from the radar ground controller, "Viper flight, you've got an MIG-23 150 miles off your nose headed south ... hostile, hostile!" This meant the MIG had crossed the no-fly zone and was headed toward us and the fuel tankers we were in charge of protecting. A split second later, my headset erupted with a call from Hos. "Viper flight, COMMIT, COMMIT!" Almost unconsciously, I pushed up my throttle to afterburner and started to climb, as I struggled to stay in perfect formation with Hos. There was no turning back. We were going after that MIG.
With those two words, "Commit, Commit," my destiny was set in motion. No time to think, simply time to react. I was trained for that moment and my instantaneous choice was clear: It was time to "commit."
My heart raced. The intensity was beyond words. Quite frankly, there was a part of me that asked, "Am I ready to do this? Will I get shot at? What if my engine fails?" Doubt crept in. But deep down, I knew I was ready and mentally and emotionally prepared. Otherwise I had no business being in that jet! Aborting that mission was not an option - period. I had a job to do. All my military training boiled down to this one moment, and I simply had to trust my wingmen, stay in position, and execute the briefed plan. It was time to act.
That moment may have come in the extreme of combat, but it was really no different than the "call to duty" we all face in everyday life and business.
Do you have the discipline and training to commit to action in your life - to "push it up" and go after your target with confidence? Do you have the discipline and training to commit to action in your life - to "push it up" Perhaps it's the challenge of raising a family, a new job opportunity, going for a promotion, embarking on a fitness regimen or a "serious" diet, or the trust and rigors that come from of a relationship. The actions you take once you commit will determine the quality of your outcome.
If you're not ready to commit, no problem. Perhaps it's not the right time, or you just need more time. But if you really are committed to take action in your life, you better have the discipline to do what it takes to commit with confidence and foster that level of trust others can count on.
True commitment only exists when it is aligned with action. Action based on disciplined preparation, laser-sharp focus and, most of all: courage. The sort of courage that says, "Even though I may get 'shot at' - I will carry on!" This is the reality of flying fighters in combat, and it is also the reality of leading a life of passion that is based on commitment and action.
Bottom line: Before you commit to anything, you have to risk getting "shot at." You have to be willing to work and sacrifice. Let's face it, it's not easy to commit. If it were, everybody would be doing it.
My good friend, Dirk Jones, does 110 pushups every morning and he's in the gym more than I am. Dirk is 73. He's committed to staying fit and takes action to do so every day. I recently spoke to people from an amazing retail management company named Jones Lang LaSalle. Last year, a severe tornado ripped through one of their properties in Memphis - the Hickory Ridge Mall. Petrified, one of the employees refused to evacuate the building. Pat Jacobs, the mall's GM, stayed behind and risked his life to make sure the employee was safe. Another wingman named Barry Woods drove 8 hours and spent 3 weeks with his coworkers to help them recover from the disaster. Barry and Pat were committed to serving their wingmen at JLL. They took action and it made a deep difference for their company..
So here's the wingtip: The ability to face our fears, harness courage, and commit to action when the stakes are high is a lot easier when we act in service to others. More importantly, when we have a trusted partner on our wing backing us up, it gives us courage to press on.
Hos was on my wing. Who's on yours? (PS: The MIG aborted and went back across the border. Mission accomplished!)