Phinney stresses importance of teamwork, leadership during graduation address

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE, Miss. --

Retired Col. Todd R. Phinney, former Chair of the Leadership and Warfighting Department at the Air War College, spoke to Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 17-13 here Aug. 18.

 At the start of his speech Phinney congratulated the newest Air Force aviators and expressed to them that though their undergraduate pilot training is complete because of their hard work and dedication, no pilot earned their wings on their own.

 He then gave a personal testimony about the first time he dropped bombs from his aircraft during a combat mission.

 During a deployment to the Middle East, while flying a combat sortie, he had a decision to make after identifying a surface-to-air missile that put coalition forces in danger. He could either continue with the original mission, or destroy the SAM that may be jeopardizing other’s safety in the area. He fired his munitions and destroyed the SAM.

 Upon his return from a successful mission, he said he remembered seeing the crew chief of his aircraft dancing, happy with the mission’s outcome; not realizing the crew chief was happy that the aircraft he put hundreds of hours into maintaining and preparing worked and saved allies’ lives that day.

 “It wasn’t until later I understood why he was dancing,” Phinney said.

 He said a lot of work is put in behind the scenes that a lot of people won’t see or hear about, and without it, the success of that mission wouldn’t have been possible.

“It is an honor and privilege to wear the wings, and we get out as the tip of the spear, but there is a whole shaft on that spear,” Phinney said. “There are so many unsung heroes from the day that I dropped bombs that will never get the excitement or praise.”

He reminded the new pilots to remain humble and understand they are part of a team effort.

 “These young officers from 17-13 are expected to be leaders; they are officers, and now they’re pilots,” Phinney said. “On any given day we are both followers and leaders, even Col. [Douglas] Gosney as the wing commander will be a follower at some point during every day.”

 Phinney said mastering the art of being a follower, learning the trade, watching other leaders, and building a toolkit from those lessons learned will make individuals and Airmen the best leaders they can be.

 In the graduating class was 2nd Lt. Trevor Phinney, SUPT Class 17-13 graduate and son of the retired colonel. Phinney had the opportunity to pin on his son’s wings during the ceremony.

 “I really wanted Trevor to pursue whatever he wanted in life,” his father said. “I am proud of him for choosing to serve our nation; I’m ecstatic for him because I know the opportunities the Air Force is going to provide for him and the other pilots.”

 Also graduating from the same class was 2nd Lt. Caleb Fisher, grandson of Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Bernie Fisher.

 The major was the first to receive the Air Force Medal of Honor in 1967 for his heroic acts during the Vietnam War. He was assigned to the 14th Special Operations Group, which was stationed in Vietnam at the time.