Reflection Paper: Resolving Conflict
Columbia Southern University
Reflection Paper: Resolving Conflict
Resolving conflict can be difficult. Since every conflict is different, there are many different strategies to apply during conflict resolution. Over my 20 year military career, I was challenged by numerous conflicts, and I had, in some cases, the privilege of being a part of the resolutions. As my military career began, I was young and unseasoned. I really didn’t have any formal training in conflict resolution. Because of this, I was caught off guard a few times. But as my career progressed, I could foresee conflict, and therefore, was able to avoid it on occasion. In the military, we are taught to become good followers before we can transition into leadership roles. Unfortunately, some leaders never learned step one. It’s very important for a good leader to have first been a good follower; someone who knows what it’s like to be on the bottom and who is willing to listen and learn on their way to the top. The knowledge and experience I gained as an Airmen in the U.S. Air Force has made me a better follower, leader, manager, son, parent, and even husband. While I can honestly say that my experience as a leader was above average, my experience as a follower wasn’t exactly perfect. I had the misfortune of being subordinate to a few “less than seasoned” leaders, which resulted in some conflicts that were handled in ways that had little to be desired.
In 1998, while I was deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia in support of the Iraqi Southern No-Fly Zone, I and a fellow airmen experienced extreme bullying. My friend and I held the ranks or Airmen First Class. This rank is one of the lowest and is considered to be the rank in which “grunt work” is done. We were both very hard workers, but unfortunately, since this was both of our first deployments, we were clueless. Some might say it in a nicer way, but the fact is, we just didn’t know what we were doing.
In Saudi Arabia at that time, there were two teams from two different bases sharing the workload. We were from Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington and our counterparts were from MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Most of the people there knew we were new (not stupid) and just needed guidance. Unfortunately, one of the Senior Airmen (we’ll call him Airmen Johnson) from MacDill didn’t see it that way. Airmen Johnson was very big and strong. He had grown up in the streets of Tampa and knew a lot of tough characters there. Due to him being stationed in his hometown, it made it difficult for him to let go of his past life as a civilian. He was under the impression that he could behave like a civilian with no military training, rather than the way we were all trained to behave in basic military training in San Antonio, Texas. Airmen Johnson was very displeased with my friends and my abilities. Rather than helping us or teaching us, Airmen Johnson began bullying us.
Almost immediately after arriving to the base, Airmen Johnson began calling us names like “dumba–es“ and “bitc-es”. We were immediately shunned by all the other Airmen because Senior Airmen Johnson had a lot of clout with them. We didn’t know who to go to for help because even some of the higher ranking people witnessed this in person and did nothing. This was horrible for us and we really didn’t know what to do, but little did we know, it was only going to get worse.
I was fairly good at deflecting the negative attention by taking any opportunity of downtime to shove my head into the books in an effort to better myself, and asking to go out on every job “so I could learn”. I also was lucky enough to have had 6 uncles in my life who taught me how to deal with “tough guys”. In most cases like this in the civilian world, I would have just removed myself from the situation since he was my superior, but that wasn’t an option here; I was in it for the long haul. Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t trained like I was. He had the unfortunate demeanor of someone who wouldn’t be walked on. After a couple days of verbal abuse, he began talking back to Airmen Johnson, this only made things worse. Since Airmen Johnson was higher in rank, he felt that he shouldn’t be talked to this way, and coupled with his already “out of touch” leadership abilities, physical confrontation was nearly unavoidable. After a week of verbal abuse and a few screaming matches in which these two guys were chest to chest and face to face, Senior Airmen Johnson shoved my friend really hard in the chest and nearly knocked him off his feet. A few people jumped in and kept the two of them apart as they tried to get at one another. Now Senior Airmen Johnson really hated my friend, and since I was associated with him, he hated me too!
The next couple of weeks got worse and worse with more verbal and physical threats. Airmen Johnson even pushed me around physically, but since I didn’t put up much of a fight, he didn’t get too physical. He constantly told us he was going to “beat the sh-t out of us after work” or “if we were in Tampa, he’d kill us”; eventually his comments turned racist. He called us “white pus-ies” and made fun of my friends red hair and pale skin. Nowadays this issue wouldn’t be quite as tough because there are a lot of resources online and/or taught to us in school about dealing with bullying and racism, but in the 90’s we didn’t know what to do. No one in our chain of command would help us. We contacted supervision, but nothing was done. We wrote a letter to our senior leadership which included, in detail, exactly what was going on, but were told to just “avoid” him. We were alone. We literally had no solution for this problem. Finally, after five weeks, Senior Airmen Johnson rotated out and was replaced by a new Airmen. The rest of deployment was better, but we still felt crushed by our experience.
There was no conflict resolution in our case. We were simply saved by timing and circumstance. No one in our unit would help us. We were surrounded by horrible leaders. Although there were many witnesses, no one ever helped us or assisted us in communicating our problems up the chain of command. When we went to leadership on our own, they didn’t do their jobs; they didn’t lead at all.
During that deployment, I learned a lot about my job as an aircraft mechanic, but mostly about how to be a leader, and how good leadership can help (or not help) those subordinate to them. In my 20 years in the military, I was witness to a large group of horrible leaders, but an even larger group of great ones. It taught me who to be as a leader. As my career progressed I added the lessons I learned in Saudi Arabia to the education I received in Airmen Leadership School, Military Training Leader School, and the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy, and I made it a point to squash any issues between Airmen as soon as I could. I never let two individuals have a personal issue with one another. I took pride in bringing them together and helping solve their disputes, by helping them understand each other’s perspectives. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but every Airmen I ever had in my charge was friendly to each other, happy to be an Airmen in the U.S Air Force, and proud as hell to work for me.
DuBrin, A. J. (2015). Human Relations. Interpersonal Job-Oriented Skills. Twelfth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson.
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