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News > Commentary - A departed hero we all need to remember
A departed hero we all need to remember

Posted 12/14/2010   Updated 12/14/2010 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Lt. Col. Brent Hrncir
7th Operations Group deputy commander

12/14/2010 - DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  -- Last week, I asked a young Airman in my office if he ever heard of a person by the name of Robin Olds. The Airman answered he had not, and it occurred to me we all might be able to benefit from a brief look at the events in the life of Robin Olds, a man who lived a life with guts, determination and character to "do the right thing." A man who is a very important part of our Air Force heritage.

Military history buffs would most likely associate Robin Olds with Operation Bolo, an air operation devised and led by Olds' wing during the Vietnam War. Operation Bolo is often considered to be one of the most successful combat ruses of all time. Jan. 2, 2011, marks the 44th anniversary of Operation Bolo, when Air Force F-4s destroyed seven of 16 MIG-21s, nearly half the North Vietnamese MIG-21 fleet, in a span of 12 minutes.

This commentary is not about the specifics of that mission, but it is about the man who brought events such as this to reality.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend some time with General Olds and discuss some of the following details with him first hand. Born in 1922, Olds' mother died when he was four, and he was raised by his father. Robin Olds' father testified on behalf of Billy Mitchell at Mitchell's court martial, and even brought 3-year-old Robin to the trial in 1925.

Robin's dad took him flying in open-cockpit biplanes at the age of eight. At the age of 12, Robin decided his goal was to attend West Point, play football, and become an officer and a military aviator.

After graduating from high school, Olds attended a preparatory school and then lived in a YMCA working jobs until he eventually passed the West Point entrance examination. At West Point, Olds played football, and was selected as an All-American tackle in 1942, all at a size of 6 feet 2 inches, and 205 pounds, small by today's standards.

Due to the growing aircrew requirements of World War II, Olds and a portion of his class graduated from West Point a year early, went to flight training and were sent to England to begin flying combat missions in May 1944. Olds flew air cover in P-38s during D-Day. Throughout World War II, Olds would achieve 12 air-to-air victories, all before the age of 22.

He went on to achieve four more kills in the Vietnam War, one during Operation Bolo, making his tally 16 total kills and earning him the status of "triple ace."

But there's another story about General Olds, a story that does not involve flying fighters, becoming an ace or playing football. It's not exciting or glamorous. I believe the lesson of the following story applies to each of us, regardless of rank, age or job position. It has to do with leadership, character, and taking the time to identify and fix the little things that can hinder and degrade the mission.

In 1966, Airmen at a base in Thailand under Olds' command were having problems resolving pay issues at base finance. Colonel Olds decided to see for himself. When he arrived at the finance office, he saw a long line extending out the door. Although the finance troops wanted to move the Colonel to the front, Olds demanded to be left at the end. He waited his turn until the Airmen in front of him got served.

Needless to say, not only did that base agency stay open a little longer that day to finish the job, the pay process eventually received the manning and priority to better accomplish a job critical to the mission, morale and welfare of the base and families back home.

On June 14, 2007, General Olds died, just prior to his 85th birthday. As we get ready to march into 2011, I ask if there's a little Robin Olds left in you? Is there a goal in your life that needs a maximum effort and guides you to a higher calling?

As a member of the military, are you including your children or family members in the big events of your life or career?

As the 7th Bomb Wing prepares for the May 2011 ORI, what base processes need your knowledge and expertise to improve? Is it ATSO training, unit manning or communication flow? Are you attacking these processes like a warrior, employing your own type of "Olds" rigor to get the job done? Is your office or shop keeping a razor-sharp focus in accomplishing and supporting the mission, until the day's "quitting time," or beyond if the mission needs it?

I believe the guts and character of General Robin Olds should serve as a shining example to help bring out the best in all of us -- an example we should not forget and an important part of our Air Force heritage.

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