Good leaders never walk by a problem

  • Published
  • By Fred Rauch
  • 341st Space Wing Antiterrorism Officer
Early in my military training, one of my mentors said, "a good leader never walks by a problem." I have no idea if he was quoting one of history's military greats, he made this up himself or he heard it from one of his mentors. I guess I'll never know. However, the message is clear. When we see something that's wrong, don't ignore it. Fix it or get the issue to the right person to be fixed. We see this truism tested often in antiterrorism.  This is especially true when talking about the "suspicious package." 

A suspicious package can be anything. It can be a box or bag that is unattended or out of place. It can be a backpack sitting in the fitness center. In July 2005, terrorists attacked the London train system killing 52 commuters on three subway trains and a bus. The blasts also killed the four terrorists. In this case, the homicide bombers carried the bombs in backpacks and detonated the bombs killing themselves. However, they could have just as easily as placed the bomb-laden backpacks on the trains and bus and departed. If that were to happen here at Malmstrom, would you catch it? If you caught it, would you walk by the problem or do something about it? 

If you saw someone drop a box, backpack or something else and keep walking what would you do? If you found a package, what should you do? In tests and exercises, the test package is almost always noticed showing great situational awareness. But, what often happens is diffusion of responsibility. We're noticing the suspicious packages, but we're not taking the cognitive steps needed to take action and the packages are ignored. We walk past the problem and assume someone else will take care of it. Often, we don't take action because we are just not sure what to do. So, we do nothing. However, a good leader, and we are all good leaders, "never walks past a problem." There are many solutions to suspicious packages. 

The most obvious solution is to bring the suspicious package to the attention of someone in authority. In the fitness center, notify the staff; in the Base Exchange, notify a store employee; the building manager; your commander; etc. A more direct approach is to call 911 and report it to law enforcement. You may want to attempt to find the owner first by looking at the package for a name or asking nearby people, but don't touch it. Any action you take is far better than no action. 

In the Airman's Manual, AFM 10-100, are the 4-R's to handle a suspicious package: recognize, record, retreat and report. The two most important being recognize and report.
That brings us back to "a good leader never walks past a problem." The safest and most correct course of action is to act on your suspicions. Take action because it just might be that one instance where action makes the difference between a successful terrorist attack and a foiled one.