Friday, September 22, 2017

Fullbore Friday

In the course of a military career, we have all found ourselves at some point or another at an extraordinary place in time, doing things or being responsible for things we had no idea we would find ourselves as the critical player.

At the moment, you don’t fully grasp what you did – or even why you did it. As time passes and you think about them, you try to figure out the why and the how. At the moment, you just do.

Sometimes it is training, others it is what makes you an individual, many times you can spend a lifetime in hindsight trying to figure it all out.

It can happen at any time. You could be fully prepared for it, spent months and years training for that eventuality, or it could just be a bolt out of the blue requiring an action or decision just as rapidly.

As leaders, at a moment of crisis, the decision will fall on to you. Eyes will fall on you. Ears will listen for your voice. You may look to the right and left looking for guidance or a clue to what needs to be done – but find nothing but others waiting on you.

There is no normal watch. There are not unimportant billets. One many can make a difference.

We recently lost one of the Patron Saints of Watchstanders, ROTC/OCS Graduate Hall of Fame, and a distinguished member of the Retired O-5 Mafia.
Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov was 44 years old and working at a missile detection bunker south of Moscow on September 26, 1983. His computer told him that five nuclear missiles were on their way, and given their flight time, he had just 20 minutes to launch a counter attack. But Petrov told his superior officers that it was a false alarm. He had absolutely no real evidence that this was true, but it probably saved millions of lives.

“The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it,” Petrov told the BBC’s Russian Service back in 2013.

“I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it,” Petrov said.

“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike. But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time; that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay,” he told the BBC.

“All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders—but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan,” Petrov said.

Perhaps importantly, Petrov noted that he was the only officer around that day who had received a civilian education. Everyone else were professional soldiers and he believed that they would have simply reported the attack at face value. The men around him were “taught to give and obey orders.” Luckily, Petrov disobeyed what simply didn’t feel right to him.

Petrov reasoned that if the Americans were going to launch a first strike they’d send more than five missiles, despite the fact that they could still do an enormous amount of damage. He also believed that since the alert system was relatively new it seemed likely that it could be sending a false alarm.

When I first heard his story years ago, I thought it was one part gilding the lily, another part mythology. Over time, many professionals looked in to the story – and it seems to have held the test of time.

Did one man save the world – or would someone else up the chain have dialed things back? We don’t know, but what we do know is when this man was faced with a call, he made the right one.

I would recommend you read the full article. Look at the pictures. Look how he lived. A humble man who served a fallen empire living in humble means.

How was he officially rewarded?
In the aftermath, the Soviet government investigated the incident and determined that Petrov had insufficiently documented his actions during the crisis. He explained it as "Because I had a phone in one hand and the intercom in the other, and I don’t have a third hand"; nevertheless, Petrov received a reprimand.

In 1984, Petrov left the military and got a job at the research institute that had developed the Soviet Union's early warning system. He later retired after his wife was diagnosed with cancer so he could care for her.

The O-5 Mafia understands ... but none of that matters.

But he lived a grand life, did good.

Straight 5.0s, #1 Early Promote. 


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