Fix what you can touch
By Col. James Hackbarth, 317th Airlift Wing
/ Published August 28, 2019
DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
When you see a Colonel or a Chief, you may think they can solve every challenge, fix every problem, right any wrong. Those Eagles and Chevrons carry weight on many issues that confront us and can solve lots of problems. However, while we can do a lot, there are issues that we can’t fix, no matter how hard we try. I’m not going to solve Air Force procurement of new bombers and airlifters. I’m not going to fix the Department of Defense budget. I’m not going to right the wrong of the Minnesota Vikings never winning a Super Bowl. But I can fix the problems closer to my level, within my reach that I can touch.
At another base and another time, back in 2006, my new Group Commander had this table in his conference room. It was made of nice, solid wood, but had seen better days. It was old, scuffed, weathered, and had a cloudy finish. Every time he sat down at a staff meeting, he looked at it with a sigh. It looked like hell...and it brought down the room. So, one Saturday he came in with polish, some rags, and a goal--and put in a few hours of elbow grease to fix it.
The next week, his staff and squadron commanders came into the staff meeting and saw this shining table. It looked brand new. It raised the spirit of the room. When we asked what happened to the old table (we thought he bought a new one), he said he saw a problem that he could fix…and fixed it. He then gave us one of the best, but also simplest and longest lasting lessons of my Air Force career – you can’t fix every problem but you can “Fix What You Can Touch!”
From the youngest Airman or Lieutenant, to the oldest Chief or Colonel, we all face challenges in our offices or sections, with our equipment or facilities, or with our peers and subordinates. We all see problems that need fixing. Some may be daunting and well outside the scope of our influence…but others are well within our grasp. Some may require trying a fix at our level, but then elevating the problem up the chain of command. Some (like the budget and the Vikings) will get addressed well above our pay grade—and that’s OK as long as we don’t pass up the fixes we can touch.
Our Air Force invests significant time and money in training each of us to solve these puzzles to accomplish the mission and make our Air Force better. Our Air Force relies on us to take the initiative to attack these challenges head on. Our Air Force needs teams that work together to fix problems. Our Air Force needs leaders—Airmen, Colonels, and everyone in between—who aren’t afraid to grab some rags, take out the polish, and put in a few hours of elbow grease to fix what they can touch.