The importance of constant learning

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Chase McFarland
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail."
- Abraham Maslow

A person learns many new things throughout their daily experiences and interactions; however, most of this information merely is stowed away becoming wasted knowledge. For a person to truly grow, they must allow themselves to reflect on these experiences, analyze them and then apply what they have learned to their future experiences. If we merely build routines from the information we learn each day, we will be left with only a hammer when we need to deal with a bolt.

We are not the best Air Force in the world because we attack bolts with hammers; we are the best because we are a culture built on being critical thinkers and innovators. For example, due to organizations not wanting to try new technologies and continue with equipment that they knew worked, our military may be flying Navy F-14s rather than the F-15, F-16, F-22 or F-35 fighters that have dominated the skies and provided air supremacy since the late 1970s. In the past, the F-14 was cheaper and had already proven to be reliable, which drove leaders to the idea that it should be used by all branches. The Air Force, however, looked to the future and understood multirole aircraft with new technologies, which had not been developed yet, were needed in order to continue to be the best Air Force in the world.

Alternatively, how about an example a little closer to home? In July 1954, in response to a growing Soviet missile threat, the United States Air Force began the rapid development of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile force. The first generation ICBMs included two types of missiles, the above ground Atlas and the underground Titan. These ICBMs were extremely dangerous, vulnerable and easily affected by weather conditions thanks to their volatile liquid fuels. Another flaw was their inability to be launched quickly. But these were not good enough, the U.S. needed a safer and more reliable ICBM; one that could brave harsh weather conditions and be launched almost immediately. Thanks to the development and the utilization of solid fuels, the Minuteman provided the U.S. with a strike capability that was ready to go 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week and was considerably more reliable and safer. Without continual learning by these engineers, operators, maintainers, supporters and leaders, the ICBM force of today may not exist.

Education and critical thinking are the backbone of our military, enabling us to be the strongest and most innovative in the world. It is continuous education and Professional Military Education opportunities that provide us with an avenue to cultivate and sharpen our minds and critical thinking abilities. Much like we exercise our body to stay able and fit, we must exercise and stimulate our minds because, just like our muscles, our minds grow weak and unable to adapt when we are not constantly exercising them.

If past military leaders, such as Gen. Giulio Douhet, Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, Col. John Warden, and Gen. Curtis LeMay, did not continue to learn and find new, out of the box ways of doing business, we would not be the Air Force we are today; we may not even be an Air Force at all. These extraordinary individuals thought against the grain, using past experiences to develop new technologies and strategies they believed would sustain military air dominance around the world. Failures did occur and, thanks to our predecessors, we have become a culture that is not afraid to fail. We learn from our failures, get back on our feet and continue to move forward.

Continued education is an essential component of being a professional warrior highlighting our core values of integrity, service and excellence. It is our job to continue to carry the torch that has been passed down from our predecessors, meeting every challenge with the vigor and flexibility that allows us to adapt and overcome any and every challenge that we are faced with.

I encourage every one of you to take advantage of all the opportunities the military has to offer in furthering your education and sharpening your mind. Visit the education center on base or their website, or the Air University website, and research formal learning programs to receive your degrees. It is not an easy task to get your degrees anymore, with tuition costs and time investments; however, you do not need formal education to keep learning. Talk to those you work with to learn about their experiences and how you can apply it to yourself, read books, get online and research current or interesting topics, or go to your local library. There are so many opportunities in the world to continue to learn you just have to unearth them. Never quit learning, for it is when we stop learning that we stop growing and stop being professional warriors.

"All of the top achievers I know are life-long learners, looking for new skills, insights, and ideas. If they're not learning, they're not growing and not moving toward excellence."
- Dennis Waitley