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Colonel practices Excellence through Servant Leadership

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (AFLCMC) -- One of the Air Force’s ongoing challenges in the information age, has been how to ensure its myriad of weapon systems continue to function effectively within increasingly cyber contested environments. After all, if adversaries somehow manage to disrupt or stop your equipment from working during conflicts, it could have a devastating effect on the Air Force’s fundamental ability to successfully carry out its mission.
 
Such was the predicament on a cold January morning in 2017, when Col. Mike Clark began his assignment with the then fledgling Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapon Systems, an office specifically created to tackle weapon system cybersecurity across the Air Force. The first order of business from his Senior Executive Service boss, was to learn his new job in a mere week, after which the two abruptly hopped on a flight to Los Angeles to brief the senior leadership at the Space and Missile Center on how they were going to tackle the emerging congressional mandate of addressing Air Force weapon system cybersecurity.  Despite the lack of prep time, Clark proved to be a quick study; resulting in a professional briefing to SMC leadership, that served as an early harbinger of things to come.
 
As its practitioners will readily attest, the business of working on the cyber resiliency of weapon systems isn’t without its own uniquely daunting set of challenges. How do you work with each of Air Force Acquisition, Operations, and Test communities; to gather all the appropriate information in order to make a tangible difference that helps them address potential areas of concern? How do you cross-pollinate information so that all stakeholders are working off the same guidelines and best practices?
 
Over time, Clark engaged these challenges with surgical aplomb by constantly seeking out ways to align the CROWS and NDAA 1647 congressional mandate with similar ideas from across the Department of Defense. This frequently resulted in him being asked to speak at prominent events ranging from working groups to Office of the Secretary of Defense events, to briefing congressional staffers on the latest weapon system cyber resiliency updates. On one occasion, he was invited to brief the vaunted Air Force Science Advisory board on his weapon system cyber resiliency work and how it impacted Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications capabilities; information which later became foundational in how cyber security was incorporated into NC3 capabilities. Likewise, when senior Pentagon officials needed someone to brief the Deputy Secretary of Defense on the latest weapon system updates, they unflinchingly selected Clark as the right man for the job.
 
At a granular level, this was driven by a fundamental understanding that each of the technical, operational and intelligence components of his job were critical in developing his ability to frame weapon system cyber vulnerabilities in terms of risk to the mission.
 
His interactions across the Air Force motivated and inspired thousands of people across countless organizations in government, academia, FFRDCs, and industry to deal with Air Force weapon system cyber threads collaboratively in order to ensure efforts were being aligned towards the same overarching goals. Clark’s collegial demeanor cloaked an intense desire to succeed at every professional challenge; often nonchalantly redirecting the credit of his own successes onto his subordinates.
 
Mark Flater, a long time CROWS colleague of Clark’s, contextualized his value to the CROWS mission. 
“Colonel Clark knows how to get the best from his team while maintaining a positive outlook. He elicits a trust from those who work for him that if they do as best they can, they will succeed,” he said. “And if they fall short, he’ll be there to back them up. For folks he interacts with that are not on his team, his primary goal is to understand their concerns and then do the best he can to help them.”
 
Other colleagues heralded his unique ability to bridge relations across disparate organizations, and in the process, center the discussion about weapon system cybersecurity around the overarching goal of mission assurance, and characterized his greatest attribute was his desire to “Get to Yes”.  
 
“He goes into a fight to resolve it, not expand it,” Flater added.  
 
Harking back at his impact at CROWS, Joe Bradley, an SES member – and current Director of the CROWS office, proudly reflected on Clark’s contributions with numerous accolades. 
 
“Colonel Clark exemplifies the servant leader” he declared. “He never asks his team to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. He is patient and calm under pressure and has a great ‘sense’ of both himself and the bigger, strategic picture. His professional legacy will be a list of cyber vulnerabilities for the 50 critical USAF platforms for us to work off of. His team learned from his professionalism, both in terms of how to tackle problems, as well as how to deal with people in a respectful manner.”
 
The Air Force is full of incredible success stories we may never hear about. People with an intense desire to succeed, who in the process make everyone around them, incrementally better at what they do. Such is the story of Col. Mike Clark – a humble servant leader whose selfless dedication resonated widely; and ultimately made the Air Force better.