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'Belling the cat'

Lt. Col. Michael Pratt
6th Operations Support Squadron commander

When I was a young boy I used to attend YMCA summer camp year after year. One of my favorite parts of summer camp was starting the day with a fable from Aesop, the famous Greek philosopher and author of Aesop's Fables.

I always found the best part of the fable was trying to ascertain what the moral to the story really was. In the spirit of determining the real moral of the story, I offer you the following experience.

Have any of you ever wondered why it takes so long to go through the gates of MacDill between 6:30 and 8 a.m. or between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.? Clearly the answer is simple since nearly every one of us has a solution. Many of us vocalizing them to anyone who would listen.

I had the privilege of being a facilitator at our most recent Wingman's Day Aug. 18. I was supposed to facilitate two seminars focusing on fitness and endurance. We had approximately 20 Airman in each session ranging from E-1 to E-5.

Each member came from one of the various career fields on base. What I discovered however, surprised me. Given the intimate forum and small group size, the members preferred to ask questions and offer solutions to the various career specialists regarding problems they had experienced. Troops from the 6th Security Forces Squadron and 6th Mission Support Squadron were a particularly vulnerable target of opportunity.

The interrogations began and the questions flew like bags of peanuts at a Devil Rays game. Surprisingly, the queries were served up without much regard to reality or the other's perspective. Those being queried were anxious to respond. Upon hearing the rationale, nearly every member of the group responded with "I never knew that", or "oh, that makes sense to me now."

The 6th SFS was well represented and responded to the gate dilemma question with poise and candor. They explained that among other challenges, nearly 10,000 vehicles and personnel enter the base on any given day. In order to ensure the base is secure, each vehicle and its driver must be positively identified and cleared.

However, a large portion of the 10,000 people entering the base are not prepared with the requisite documentation and take extra time to locate the documents and present them to the security forces troop.

If we assume that just five percent of those entering the base don't have their ID or other documentation ready (a conservative estimate according to 6th SFS), we come up with 500 vehicles causing an undue delay. If we further assume that it takes an additional 10 seconds for these individuals to get their documentation in order, there is nearly 90 minutes of excess delay cumulatively.

This was an issue to which none of our seminar members were aware. They were unaware, yet were quick to pass judgment and tell others how it could be done better. Now comes the part of the story that I like best… the moral.

As Aesop would say, one should not judge another's actions until he has walked a mile in his shoes.

In Aesop's own words in "Belling the Cat"…

“Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case.

"You will all agree," said he, "that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighborhood."

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: "That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?" The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said:

"It is easy to propose impossible remedies."

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