Mission Command Lessons Learned from Apollo 13 Engineer
March 26, 2014
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- "Houston we've had a problem." These words by astronaut Jack Swigert remind us of the near fatal disaster of Apollo 13 in 1970 as well as the movie "Apollo 13."
In the last two years, Mission Command Training Program's Operations Group Sierra has used "Apollo 13" movie clips more than 30 times to teach the Mission Command philosophy and its principles to units preparing for deployments and major exercises.
One clip features an engineer at the back of the room who comes forward to redefine the problem and offer unconsidered recommendations. The engineer portrayed in the movie is John Aaron, who is retired and lives in Meadowlakes, Texas. Aaron, a NASA hero, was a flight controller at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and was instrumental in helping to bring Apollo 13 back to Earth safely.
Recently, members of Operations Group Sierra met with Aaron at his home and thanked him for service during the Apollo 13 mission. They also shared with Aaron how the group has used his experience to teach thousands of Soldiers about Mission Command. The operations group members told Aaron how each Soldier and team member contributes to an organization and its mission accomplishment.
"Because of the personal experience of having met him, it will generally lead to additional discussion points for me," said Maj. Julie Maxwell, a logistics observer coach/trainer with Operations Group Sierra. "It will help me later on with the training audience one on one and small group discussions because now his personal story has brought depth to the Mission Command training scenarios."
During his meeting with Operations Group Sierra, Aaron stressed the importance of leadership during a crisis. He said someone has to be in charge and it's important based on the situation. It's not always the same point person and the effort has to focus around a converging solution.
Aaron's example and his relationship with Apollo 13 flight director, Gene Kranz, demonstrated several principles of Mission Command: mutual trust, disciplined initiative and accepting prudent risks.
Mission Command Training Program's mission is to support the collective training of Army units as directed by the Chief of Staff of the Army at worldwide locations in order to train leaders and provide commanders the opportunity to train on Mission Command in Unified Land Operations.