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Letters to the Editor

what’s a squadron commander?

by Lieutenant-General W.K. (Bill) Carr, retired

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I’ve been a member of eleven squadrons (and commanded two of them, one wartime and one peacetime), but only one squadron commander of the nine I served stands out as the ideal, because:

  • He inspired people to fly to their limits (not his) and to achieve objectives with zeal, even though they might get killed.

  • He had courage and wisdom (DSO 2 bars, DFC 3 bars, US DFC, etc.). His wisdom was demonstrated continuously by the manner in which he survived, and, if you listened to him, caused others to survive through making them think.

  • He obviously was a superb pilot, but he didn’t flaunt it, and he didn’t, in all humility, think he was as good technically as many squadron members (and I don’t think he was).

  • He demonstrated loyalty to his superiors and subordinates through being concerned about others, not himself.

  • He was sensitive to people, their foibles, and their differences.

  • He demanded, expected, and got the best you could give – and then thanked you.

  • He did have charisma, but was not aware of it.

  • He was an innovator, but tried the new idea himself, whether he invented it or not, before accepting it. If it worked, he thanked the originator in front of his peers; if it didn’t, he thanked him privately and told him why.

  • He always put his service and his people before himself, except in the matter of women and swordsmanship.

  • He was not outwardly ambitious, nor, do I think, inwardly, selfishly ambitious.

  • He fought for and got the best for his guys, and he knew all of us individually by first names. We respected him as an airman, a commander, and as a man.

  • He would not suffer fools, and he did not condone carelessness.

  • He saved many “weak sisters’” lives by identifying them at the outset, booting them from the squadron, and endorsing their log books.

  • He had the marks of greatness in his appearance, his approach, his hell-raising, his stamina, his common sense, and his moral guts.

  • He disappeared over enemy territory in 1943 at the age of 23.