What does the name Thomas Wilson mean to you?
Probably not much. But over a decade ago, this young man created a groundswell of change in a massive Federal organization that altered thousands of lives for the better; including mine.
How did he do it? And what can we learn from his story about creating large-scale change from the bottom up?
It was 2004. I found myself in Camp Beuring, Kuwait, preparing to cross into Iraq with my battalion to support the surge that was in place for the first Iraqi election. Afterward, we would remain in Iraq for a year-long rotation.
Two weeks prior to launch, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Kuwait, for a press conference designed to energize the troops prior to the mission. This is when Specialist Thomas Wilson stood up and asked the following question:
“We’ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on for three years and we’ve all been staged here out of Kuwait,” says Wilson. “Now, why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?”
Specialist Wilson wasn’t joking about digging around scrapyards. In the weeks leading up to this moment, we’d spent day after day scouring through junkyards full of destroyed American vehicles to assemble the equipment and armor we needed to protect ourselves. It was a tense time for all of us, and morale was understandably affected.
Now, we weren’t asking for the heavily armored vehicles you see today. We were shaping nickel-plated, ballistic steel onto our vehicles to provide a most basic level of protection. When we launched, the vehicles looked like they were straight out of a Mad Max movie. It wasn’t much. But we had something.
Specialist Wilson was literally at the bottom of the food chain in the largest and most diverse organization in the country; speaking to the man who reported to the President himself. His question sucked the air out of the room in that moment. It was completely counter-cultural to ask it, but he had the courage to stand up and create real, meaningful change with a simple question.
Within a week, cargo aircraft were landing in Kuwait full of ballistic steel for us. Thomas Wilson saved many lives in the moment and in the years to follow as his action shined a spotlight on a real issue. Over the next few years, our armed forces began to be supplied with proper equipment to achieve their unique mission and, without a doubt, Wilson’s actions had a far-reaching impact on thousands of lives.
Change Is A Complex (And Necessary) Process
No matter how small or large, change is, at its core, a people process, and it’s possible to create change no matter where you sit.
But, as we all know, large-scale change is never easy. People are creatures of habit, after all, so it’s not surprising that they naturally resist change. We don’t like things messing Go to the full article.