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Gen. Russ Dougherty

Leadership Traits of an Air Force Leader and Great Dad!

By Col. Mark E. Dougherty, USAF (Ret.)

My dad was born 100 years ago this fall – 39 of those years were spent in uniform. He was almost 87 when he died. He was a Kentucky National Guardsman, an Army Air Corps pilot, an Air Force JAG, and an Air Force pilot, commander, and senior leader. When I was asked to write this article for the Daedalians, I thought about naming it “Russ Dougherty’s 12 Rules for Life,” “Sh*t My Dad Said,” or “7 Habits of Highly Effective Uniformed Personal,” but variations of those titles are taken. Let’s stick with “Leadership Traits of an Air Force Leader and a Great Dad!”

Be a Gentleman: My dad, Russell Elliott Dougherty, retired in 1977 after 39 years in uniform. He was a 4-star Air Force general and commander of the Strategic Air Command when he retired. He was universally well regarded and admired by his subordinates, peers and superiors – as far as I could tell. You get a feeling for that when you’re hanging off his “wing” at official functions and social receptions. He was a smart, normal, polite, ethical and agreeable guy. People wanted to work for him because he was a gentleman. You wanted to be his kid, too.

Be Responsible: Dad told me that he was the first SAC commander who hadn’t been a legitimate “war hero.” But he may have been the ultimate Cold Warrior – the right guy in the right places and at the right times. He embraced the responsibilities that came with every assignment and position he held – pilot, aircraft commander, instructor pilot, JAG, squadron commander, staff officer, major command commander, husband, father and friend. Hold yourself and others responsible.

Be Nice: General Dougherty’s advice to SAC officers and NCOs: You don’t have to be an unmitigated SOB to be a good leader.

Be Happy/Learn a Trade: My dad was the happiest man I’ve ever known. He had a lot to be happy about. My mom Gerry for example. She was a real looker – think Lauren Bacall. Dad managed dance bands in high school, while attending college (where he met mom) and law school and played trumpet in those same bands. He was a late ‘30s/early ‘40s version of a (minor) rock star. Dad joined the Army Air Corps Dec. 8, 1941, while attending law school in Washington, D.C. This was his second Army job. He was a bugler in the Kentucky National Guard’s 123rd Cavalry Regiment as a teenager. Aviation cadet Russ Dougherty earned his wings in 1943 and plowed-back as an instructor in the training command. He flew B-17s, then upgraded to the ultimate bomber, the B-29, stateside. He enjoyed life and made everybody around him happy as a result.

An edited-for-length version of this story appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of The Daedalus Flyer.

Russell Elliott Dougherty was born on Nov. 15, 1920, in Glasgow, Kentucky. He was the eldest son of Ewell and Bess Dougherty,
and had a younger brother, Robert.

Be Loyal: Dad and mom welcomed Diane Ellen Dougherty into the world the day after D-Day in 1944. She’s been known as Dede ever since. (get it? : – ) She is their favorite. Right after the war when dad was a broke law school student in Louisville Kentucky, Dede got real sick with very high fever. The only hospital that would admit her was the military hospital at Fort Knox. Dad: Any outfit that will take care of my daughter deserves my loyalty. So, dad re-entered the Air Force, in an AF Reserve unit, while he was finishing law school. Loyalty to your family, service and nation always worked well for him.

Be Principled and Ethical: Dad completed law school and re-joined the Air Force as a lawyer (JAG) and a pilot. Fly two days a week and practice law the other 3-4-5 days. The birth of twin sons Mark and Bryant followed in 1951. They were known as Precious and Semi-Precious. Dede was still their favorite. In 1952 the Air Force personnel chief said that Air Force lawyers could only be lawyers and the Air Force was going to strip “rated” JAGs of their hard-earned pilot wings. That’s not right! Major Dougherty got up on his hind legs (as it were) over that important issue. The short version is that dad opted for an operational career as a USAF pilot instead of pursuing the AF Judge Advocate legal path. “Russ, you’re making a huge mistake! You have a bright future ahead of you as a JAG!” said his peers and superiors. It’s tough to talk sense into pilots.

My Family is My Hobby: Mom and the Dougherty kids joined dad for B-29 refresher, KC-97 and B-47 flying assignments and squadron command tours (talk about happy) in Arizona followed by a numbered Air Force tour in California. The Doughertys loaded up our ’57 Chevy (two-toned white and turquoise blue with a continental kit) and headed East for the National War College in 1959. What did I do wrong? Not that happy, but General LeMay insisted. All of us in that Belair except our dog Wag. He flew to D.C. – stood the entire flight – in a KC-97! Nobody in SAC (until that time) went to senior service schools. He was the class of ’60. What followed were, as they say, positions of ever-increasing responsibility. Important assignments followed and, importantly, so did the family. France, Virginia, Germany, Virginia/D.C., Louisiana, Belgium and finally CINCSAC, in Nebraska. Mom had cancer so she and dad retired from the Air Force in 1977.

By then Dede was a mom and the Dougherty twins were both Air Force fighter pilots (yes, dad was happy, but he didn’t let on). That’s when his sons began to really pay attention. Hey, this wonderful dad of ours knows some things!

Mom died at age 56 in 1978. Dad soon married Barbara Brooks Lake (I need to be responsible for someone besides me). Dad and Barbara were married almost 30 years until he died in 2007 of congestive heart failure. Dad was overweight, could hardly walk and was blind in one eye, and yet he remained one of the happiest men you ever knew to the end of his life.

Do Your Job(s): He took great pride in putting himself through both college and law school. Russ Dougherty had 5 jobs in college and therefore was a solid C student as an English major. He found Shakespeare fascinating. Frequently he would use this quote – to motivate himself and others when things were going bad – from Shakespeare’s Richard II: Bishop of Carlisle to King Richard, after his kingdom was lost – “My lord, wise men ne’er sit and wail their woes, but presently prevent the ways to wail.” In other words; Just Do It. Make it better than you found it. A positive attitude beats a poor one every time. If you do your job to the best of your abilities, promotions, schools, better jobs – and national security – will follow.

Take Care of the People You are Responsible for: If you take care of the people under your command, they will take care of the mission. And don’t end a sentence in a preposition.

I couldn’t do this without you good people. Dad said this to his headquarters staff at SAC every day, and by extension to all the good people in SAC.

Mission First: During the Cold War, a well-trained and well-equipped Strategic Air Command hoped to evoke the following Soviet strategic calculation: Not today, comrade. Nuclear deterrence works. And, an Air Force should be capable across the spectrum of warfare. If the commander in chief wants us to … deliver hay to yaks in Katmandu … then we’d better be able to do that. Don’t let tradition/traditional organizations get in the way of mission accomplishment. Mission first; organize to meet it. Capability x Will = Deterrence.

Communicate the Plan (then plan for the plan to go pear-shaped): Dad, the great communicator and a planner his entire adult life, was very successful at communicating national security planning and strategy, but he failed* when it came to convincing his family and friends to name their boys Russell. We came through … sort of. Russell and Dougherty are middle names in our family. Finally, 94 years after he was born, 7 years after he died, his 5th (and final?) grandson was named Russell Dougherty, in his honor. We finally came through; Dad persevered. * Never give up; never surrender!

Don’t Lie: … then dad added something thoughtful that indicated that people could tell when you’re lying. I interpreted that to mean I’d better not lie, because I’m too stupid to lie. Telling the truth got me out of some tight spots, let me tell you, (Bryant said).

Zip Your Flight-suit Pocket Zippers and Fasten Your Chinstrap: Dad bailed out of a burning T-33 once on a weekend cross-country flight. He watched his helmet, wallet, keys, change, checklists, a water flask and a candy bar float away as he tumbled out of that T-Bird cockpit. Even if you never have to bail out, exit the cockpit with everything you brought in! After parachuting safely, he sure wanted a drink of that water – and the candy bar. You learn from experiences and most experiences are bad.

The Things I Heard Him Say the Most: , “Oh, sons!” and, “It’s Bryant and I, not Bryant and me.” Best retort from his twin sons: “Are you mad at we’s?”

His Proudest Moments: The birth of his children, graduations, jobs, assignments, promotions, awards, grandchildren, successful nuclear deterrence – all made his cup runneth over. But, when his favorite child, his only daughter, married a Kentuckian, who was an Air Force pilot, with a full head of hair! Well, he was drinking from the saucer then!

Expert: When you are the new guy in an organization, put a sign over your desk that says “EXPERT.” You’d be surprised what you’ll learn from the curious people that drop by.

Renaissance Man: The rest of Shakespeare’s quote from Richard II: Act 3, Scene 2: “To fear the foe, since fear oppresseth strength, gives in your weakness strength unto your foe. And so your follies fight against yourself. Fear and be slain; no worse can come to fight: and fight and die is death destroying death; Where fearing dying pays death servile breath.” You might have to read this with your lips moving but it’s worth rolling that around on your tongue for all of us warfighters. The classics contain timeless lessons for all of us.

Words Are Important (said the recovering English major): Russ Dougherty’s edits and margin notes were legendary. Just ask any of his staff officers. Here just a few tidbits of verbal advice he gave to every new class of USAF general officers from feedback I got from a few of those rising G.O.s:

–           Be careful what you think, say and do – it will define your legacy.

–           Communication is key – write and speak precisely to be understood and listen carefully to understand.

–           Remember the wife’s name.

–           As a commander, remember “we” did it, “I’ didn’t.

–           Oh, and always wear over-the-calf length socks with your Class As/suit.

Don’t Leave Things to Chance/Failure is Not an Option: The G.U.M.P. check is a holdover from (all of our) dad’s early flying days. It stands for Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop. There are lots of variations on this acronym, depending on the plane you are piloting. The message here is everyone that flies has some sort of mnemonic device to help them remember important checklist steps before take-off, crossing into hostile airspace, or before landing. When under pressure, tired or distracted, it’s important to use something that reminds you, for example, to put your landing gear down – before you land! And keep it simple, stupid (K.I.S.S.) He would always put his wedding ring on his right ring finger to remind him to share something with Gerry when he got home, tired, distracted, late! Remembering what he was supposed to share was the hard part. These days my go-to checklist acronym is K.I.C.S.S. – kid in car seat (stupid). Add that to your crosscheck, moms and dads – and grandparents – when you are in a hurry and distracted!

Working For Your Dad When You’re Both in the Same Line of Work: I got a fighter out of Undergraduate Pilot Training. Dad was the SAC Commander at the time. My son didn’t want to fly bombers or tankers for the Strategic Air Command, and I wouldn’t have him. Problem solved!

Moving: When pulling out of the driveway on a PCS move, without fail, dad would say, Off we go on one of life’s great adventures. He got to say that a LOT. Military brats key off their parent’s attitude when faced with yet another dislocating and disorienting Permanent Change of Station move. Dad’s corny phrase worked then, and I still use it today. So far, the kids have agreed to move with us each time.

Details are Important: General Dougherty was a world-class party planner according to his aide-de-camps. And, be sure to include a list of the wives names, please

The Curse is Upon You: Once while flying a T-39 over the eastern half of the U.S, dad asked his co-pilot / IP – Whatdayathink, are there more trees or more bricks? I dare you not to chew on that one next time you’re cruising along at altitude.

Memorable Triggers: Brylcreem on my pillow is still my favorite smell. A signature smell of dad’s everywhere in the ’50s.

1920 – 2020, Lessons for the Ages: Outstanding pilot, highly respected gentleman general, Cold Warrior, speaker, planner, communicator and family man. My dad was the cat’s ass … Oh, son!

(ABOVE LEFT) Young Russ circa 1935-36 when he was “drafted” by the Kentucky Guard. They needed a bugler and he met all the requirements, except age. It was overlooked to meet “mission requirements.” (ABOVE RIGHT) 21-year-old Russ Dougherty, right, with his lifelong friend Thomas A. “Tap” Parks, circa 1942.

(ABOVE) Gerry and Russ, summer of ’42. (RIGHT) Then-Captain Dougherty and his daughter, Dede.

General Dougherty with his twin sons, Mark and Bryant, AKA Precious and Semi-Precious, in 1977.

A family photo from a Pentagon retirement ceremony in 2003. From left are Col. Mark Dougherty, USAF, retired; Dede Dougherty Ralston and her husband, Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, USAF; Barbara Dougherty and General Dougherty. Gerry passed away in January 1978. Son, (Mark’s twin brother) Lt. Col. Bryant Dougherty, died in 1990.