“A Little Knowledge”

I’m doing my prep for the Project Board Review (PBR), which is a big event where every Project Manager is given the opportunity to present their project to the Senior Management Board, so no pressure. This is the 3rd of these I’ve done, so I know the general format and realise that the most important thing is to fully aware of your plan, so I’m feeling pretty good.

Now this I’ll admit has not always been the case. My flying training always emphasised the importance of knowledge sharing and making sure that everyone knew the plan. This was for the very basic reason that if the Leader got shot down in flames, then someone else could step once more into the breech Dear Friends and complete the Mission.

This was great in theory, but not always in practice. I’ve been involved in quite a few sorties where the overall strategy, dependencies and timings have been shrouded in mystery. At least you knew this up front and could assess the potential risks. Even worse was the situation, where everyone believed they knew the plan, but for one vital piece of information.

Let me tell you a story. When I was on exchange with the Luftwaffe, we deployed to Zaragossa in Spain, for a Squadron Exchange. The general format was 2 weeks of fairly intensive flying, with the final sortie being a major airfield attack, with us flying as Fighter Escort, against Palma de Mallorca airport. The Spanish F-18 Hornets were flying in a fighter/bomber role, another squadron of bombers were joining us en-route and our 8 Phantom F-4E were close escort (or high-speed chaff as the role was otherwise known). After a bit of ground juggling, we’d assembled the Team, apart from the Leader, who’d had to hand-over the Hammer (lead position) to his Number2. Jet after jet in close-formation screamed airborne in a 10 minute stream of AVTUR & testosterone. It was all very exciting, lots of heavy-metal, bit of air-to-air refuelling, a NATO AWACs, two fighter squadrons as the Opposition and the chance to scream over a major International airport in full blower. Top Gun or even Top Gear – eat your heart out !!

It was all going well, we’d sidestepped a couple of Combat Air Patrols, engaged a couple more with long-range AMRAAM active missiles and as we all merged as a big Gorilla, we coasted out from Mainland Spain. “Feet Wet” was called and we all experienced another big adrenalin surge. We dropped down low over the sea to avoid radar, then as the coastal bird-strike risk diminished; we dropped even lower, which was quite impressive as we were already pretty low to say the least. (One of the jets had to RTB after clipping a yacht’s mast in the bay.) Things were going well, too well, it was too quiet and even though I was callsign ‘Torro 32’ out of 32, my hackles started to rise.

“Enemy Coast Ahead” came the call. We pulled up slightly to avoid the beach umbrellas and ruffled a few towels on the loungers, whilst the bombers made switches ‘Live’ to pepper the runway with munitions, the fighters prepared to bomb-burst over the field in an attempt to overload the simulated Surface-To-Air Missile batteries and enable the bombers to complete the Mission. “Matador”, came the codeword call, the fighters pitched into the vertical and whilst fighting the G-Force, I craned my neck back over my shoulder to see the air-picture below.

Fighters, in place. Bombers, in place. What was not in place, were the Boeing 767 and Airbus charter flights initiating emergency overshoot manoeuvres.

It transpired that the Leader was meant to call up the airfield 2 minutes out and Palma would clear the field. Unfortunately, this one fact was known to him and him alone, so when he handed over to his Deputy to lead the sortie, this vital bit of info was lost. Ooops.

At this point, I’d like to apologise to anyone on a charter flight to Majorca who’s had their tasty in-flight meal and duty-free plonk dumped in their lap as their pilot tried manfully to avoid a series of mid-air collisions.

But back to the PMR. I’ve gone through the pre-brief slide pack and all I get are flashbacks to my Resistance To Interrogation (R-to-I) training courses I’ve done. You’ve all seen the movies where the under duress, the only information is given is Name, Rank, Number, DOB and “I cannot answer that question”.

It’s 20 years since Gulf War I, (I’m getting old), though the images of various mates of mine displayed on TV by Saddam are still iconic and crystal clear. One of the bizarre outcomes of the Gulf it was decided that aircrew needed more training in being beaten up. I jest not. Even stranger was that since no Senior Officer would order us onto the course, we had to volunteer, or lose our flying category. (As an aside, the guys duffed up by some seriously nasty people and given the option of go on TV or die – read Tornado Down for details, were only told 6 months after the war that they ,reluctantly, wouldn’t face Court Martial for ‘aiding the enemy’).

So as ‘willing’ volunteers, we spent a week out on some desolate moor, with a parachute, no food, water or sleep, being chased by a bunch of Paras or Special Forces, before being handed over for a good kicking for a couple of days. Just to say that the Army generally doesn’t like the Royal Air Force. The Army generally don’t like Officers. The Army really, really don’t like RAF Officers, so it gives you a good idea of the gentleness demonstrated towards us.

This is where giving the answer during interrogation, “I cannot answer that question” more than a couple of times, invariably meant that you’d be dragged back out into the snowy North-Yorkshire farmyard, once again put into a stress position and hosed down with freezing water until you were shivering uncontrollably, twitching on the icy cobbles, whilst gasping for breath because of the stinking, sodden hessian sack over your head with your hands tied behind your back. People ended up with stitches, soft-tissue damage, frostbite and even broken bones.

So back to PMR. It’s completely unfair to compare POW treatment to what we experience at PMR. As POWs, unlike PMs, are protected by the Geneva Convention.

In fairness and joking apart, I fully support PMR. The fact thatthe Seniors, plus other significant players, every 6 months, are willing to set aside 3 days to listen to and understand PMs concerns, with a genuine offer to help is a fantastic commitment and an opportunity that you don’t always see in other organisations. If you don’t have support for your project from the top, you might as well pack up and move onto something else.

So what have I learnt:

It’s always good to have a plan
It’s always good to communicate the plan to all interested parties
Sometimes “I cannot answer that question” is the right answer
But maybe not at the PMR !!

Best of Luck to all PMs at their own reviews, but failing that, Red Cross parcels are in the post – honest !!

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