Leadership, Responsibility, and Integrity: Darcy Burner and the Civil Air Patrol

I first met Darcy Burner some nine months ago at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally. It was clear to me from that first meeting that Ms. Burner was an extraordinary individual–she struck me as smart, well-informed, articulate, disciplined, confident, and full of energy. I had no idea whether these attributes could translate into success in campaigning and politics, but I thought that Darcy exhibited many of the good attributes that I wanted in a political leader, and she didn’t seem afflicted with the negative attributes found in so many political leaders.

Eventually I came across an on-line biography of Darcy Burner where I learned that she had spent her teen years in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), and had been awarded the National Cadet of the Year in 1989. I knew a little about the Civil Air Patrol, their training opportunities for young people, as well as CAP’s search and rescue function in aviation.

Darcy’s connections to and achievements within the Civil Air Patrol helped explain some of her strenghts. At the same time, there was a paradox. The Civil Air Patrol is the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. This was not the background I expected from a Harvard graduate who went into the software industry and later decided to run for office as a progressive Democrat.

In early August, I asked the Burner campaign for a brief interview with Darcy about her CAP experience. The request was motivated as much by genuine curiosity about Darcy’s CAP experience as it was to provide readers with an original interview.

On August 21st the interveiw happened. Darcy had just returned from making a speech at the DNC convention in Chicago. As we spoke on the phone, Darcy was being driven across Lake Washington to an event in Seattle. Her answers were punctuated with driving instructions and advice for the out-of-town driver….

Darryl: You became interested in flying at a young age?

Darcy: I did. I actually thought I wanted to be an astronaut…And I think pretty much everyone in my generation thought at one point that they wanted to be an astronaut.

How old was I? I don’t know how old I was when first thought about becoming an astronaut—it was pretty young. When I started thinking concretely about what it takes to become an astronaut, it was clear that becoming a pilot was an essential prerequisite for most astronauts.

When I was about 13 I started to look seriously at this–if I wanted to do this as a career, how do I get there. I was volunteering at the local public library at the time, and there was a book on the Civil Air Patrol. I had re-shelved this book and I thought, “that looks really interesting,” so I ended up checking out the book and reading it. The organization looked really interesting.

So I convinced my dad, right after I turned 14, to take me to a Civil Air Patrol meeting, and very quickly fell in love with the organization and the people who were doing it.

Darryl: So you joined the Civil Air Patrol, and I assume you were moving up through the Cadet ranks. Did you also take flying lessons?

Darcy: I took private pilot lessons. My family didn’t have a whole lot of money, so I had to eek out what I could. I took the orientation flights that the Civil Air Patrol offered. They had just started the Civil Air Patrol national soaring school in ‘86 or ‘87 and I went to soaring school and soloed in a glider. And then I got a scholarship that allowed me to take lessons in a Cessna 152–which was fantastic. But, before I was able to get my license, I ended up going to college, and discovered that college was…time-consuming.

Darryl: It can also be inconvenient flying in a major metropolitan area.

Darcy: Yes…I looked at it. I still had the [flying scholarship] money, but couldn’t figure out how to get to an airport to finish my license.

Darryl: One of the major objectives of CAP is to develop leadership skills in young people. What types of experiences did you get through the program?

Darcy: While I did some flying, the vast majority of my time was developing leadership skills. I had some incredible opportunities as a Cadet that went far beyond what I (or anyone) would get at that age.

I was the executive officer of the Nebraska wing, which, as far as I know is an unprecedented thing, to have a Cadet fill a wing staff command position. I ran a fairly large cadet activities [program], I eventually chaired the north-central region Cadet Advisory Council (CAC). At the time they didn’t have a National CAC, but I pushed pretty hard to have one created and they eventually created one.

I had lots of public speaking opportunities, and lots of management opportunities. I had managed organizations of several hundred people, doing fairly complex things at the age of sixteen.

Darryl: At age sixteen?

Darcy: At age sixteen. Right…that is something that one doesn’t usually do until a substantially later age. And I really had the opportunity to figure out some of the things that worked and some of the things that didn’t. I was given good examples. I was working for a gentleman named Rick Anderson, who was the Nebraska wing commander, became the North Central regional commander and then became the national commander of the Civil Air Patrol shortly after I went off to college. He was a tremendous example for me of what real leadership looks like.

I was also, of course, taking formal training. They do a tremendous job of gradually giving people more responsibility, and showing Cadets what it means to be a leader.

For example, it was from the Civil Air Patrol that I internalized the principle that a true leader will not ask somebody under their command to do something they are not willing to do. You have to be willing to do anything that you ask of those working for you.

Darryl: …something that we aren’t getting from our national political leaders these days.

Darcy: Right, exactly, there seems to be a tremendous lack of basic principled leadership right now. And being principled is something I learned in the Civil Air Patrol.

Darryl: The Civil Air Patrol has many steps and milestones in their Cadet ladder, but there are four major milestones: the Mitchell, Earhart, Eaker, and Spaatz awards.

Darcy: Yes…when I was a cadet, there were only three: the Mitchel, Earhart and Spaatz. And, I did earn through the Spaatz award as a Cadet Colonel.

Darryl: I understand that very few cadets go on to win the Spaatz award.

Darcy: Yes, there are a handful earned each year.

Darryl: And then you went on to become the National Cadet of the Year in 1989?

Darcy: Yes.

Darryl: That sounds even rarer [than the Spaatz award] how many “National Cadets of the Year” are there each year?

Darcy: One National Cadet of the Year is given out each year.

Darryl: Then, I take it there is no scandal around you failing to show up for a year or anything like that–failing to carry out your responsibilities?

Darcy: [Laughs] Quite the contrary, I lived, breathed, ate, and slept Civil Air Patrol during the period in which I was a cadet. I mean, in Nebraska, the opportunities for me to stretch my wings and do something big were limited. This was one of the few outlets I had where I could make a difference.

I was on a ground team doing search and rescue. We did a lot of disaster preparedness…a lot of disaster relief work. When aircraft would go missing we would search and occasionally find them. I not only developed my own leadership skills, but helped other cadets develop their skills as well, which for a lot of the Cadets in the program, made a huge difference in their lives. The Civil Air Patrol was the only point of civility in the lives of some of these cadets.

Darryl: So, between being a mother, having a career, and more recently running for public office, do you still get a chance to participate in CAP?

Darcy: Very little, these days. I am still a member of the organization, and I make financial contributions. I just don’t have the time at the moment, though I wish I did. I am a member of the Spaatz Association; I was at the founding organizational meeting and occasionally participate.

Darryl: You talked about learning leadership skills, but how else has CAP shaped your politics?

Darcy: Most of the members of the Civil Air Patrol that I know are relatively conservative politically–far more Republican than Democrat. And I have a tremendous respect for people on the other side of the political isle who are principled, because I know a lot of them. I am not one of those people who think all Republicans are bad and wrong and all Democrats are good and right. It’s really not that simple. There are legitimate differences in perspective on how we should prioritize individual responsibility versus broad-based opportunity–that is, when these two are in conflict, which do we prioritize more. What do we prioritize more, strict fiscal responsibility or societal justice when those two things conflict? There are legitimate differences of opinion about where we draw the line. But the difference is that the administration in power right now doesn’t look anything like the principled Republicans that I have met.

Darryl: This may be a more pedestrian point, but after meeting with you a number of times in small group settings, it seems you have a very smooth-running, efficient, and disciplined approach to running a campaign. Am I imagining it, or is this the same kind of disciplined approach that is used in aviation and aviation education?

Darcy: That is absolutely true. I have a set of organizational and management skills that I probably owe to the Civil Air Patrol. They trained me on how you run organizations. They, of course, approach it from a very military perspective, but everyone in the Civil Air Patrol is a volunteer–much as they are on a campaign–so, you have to be very thoughtful on how you apply that kind of leadership. And, obviously, the subsequent experiences I had–like managing people at Microsoft–enhanced and refined those management skills. But all of the foundations are from the Civil Air Patrol.

Darryl: As a congressperson will you have any particular aviation-related agenda?

Darcy: Certainly, there will be areas where I will have a very aviation-related agenda. I’ve asked that Science and Technology be one of the committees I sit on. That committee, obviously, has a big impact on aviation.

Darryl: …and there will be a vacancy on that committee.

Darcy: [Laughs] Yes…and some of the issues we’ve been talking about relative to national security–and that is a big, big issue during this race–some understanding of aviation is essential When we talk about what is possible and what is not possible in preventing terrorist attacks, the aviation system and the country’s transportation systems are big pieces of it.

We know that terrorists have to be able to move money, which is a technology thing. And, they have to be able to move themselves, which is a transportation–and almost always an aviation–thing. So having an understanding of how those systems work impacts your ability to understand possible solutions in terms of homeland security.

Darcy: I think I have a different view of the military than many Democrats have. Some of that is the Civil Air Patrol and some of that is my family’s military history. I am not anti-military. I think it is constructive for us to realize that there are people out there whose principle goal is to kill and destroy. The ability to defend ourselves is critical.

When we lived in Nebraska, my dad would take me to Offutt Air Force Base to go grocery shopping at the commissary. And I would pass by a sign that said “Peace through Superior Strength,” I think there is an important element of truth to that. If we want the kind of peaceful world that all of us want–at least all of us on our side of the aisle and many of the people on the other side of the aisle–the path we take to get there involves military strength in our country and military strength internationally to be able to respond to any threat, as a method of deterrence.

At this point, Darcy had reached her destination, and we concluded the interview.

I had suspected that many of Darcy’s positive attributes could be traced to her involvement in the Civil Air Patrol, and the interview showed just how formative the experience was. I think it’s fair to say that Darcy’s leadership skills were both recognized and cultivated systematically from an early age. These skills eventually took her to the position as the lead manager for the .NET initiative, arguably one of Microsoft’s most important initiatives at the time.

My initial reactions were correct: Darcy Burner really is smart, well-informed, articulate, disciplined, confident, and full of energy. I would add one attribute: integrity. One simply does not advance in CAP the way Darcy did without integrity. The Civil Air Patrol found an extraordinary young woman in their midst, they recognized this, and provided her with training and leadership opportunities.

And, I’ll bet she’ll make one hell of a political leader!

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4 Responses to “Leadership, Responsibility, and Integrity: Darcy Burner and the Civil Air Patrol”

  1. N in Seattle Says:

    According to the Spaatz Association website, Darcy is “missing” … they say they don’t have an address (snail or email) for her. Her Award Number is 873, by the way.

  2. N in Seattle Says:

    Furthermore, the Spaatz Association has an online forum tool. One of its message threads concerns Darcy’s campaign.

  3. B Stein Says:

    Do you have any other information on the story at,


    or see “Breaking News” in my website.

    Please let me know.

  4. Yehuda Draiman Says:

    Leadership obligation and responsibility

    Many words in the English language give definition to our conduct as individuals or to the conduct of organizations and agencies of government. Among these words are four that have special importance to those of us who care, have values and are interested in becoming men and women of character. The words are honesty, responsibility, leadership and public trust.
    The world we have known has changed rapidly in the last 50 years. The changes were driven by the advent of high technology, instant media coverage and communications which changed the way our society earns its living. The evolution from an industrial society characterized by the blue collar worker, to a society that now makes money by managing information or providing service to others has produced rapid changes more profound than in any other time in human history. These economic/technological changes have also prodded our society to examine virtually every traditionally held belief and custom. In addition every organization, including government, continues to be scrutinized for its relevancy to this new way of earning a living.
    I presume who, or what, is to blame for the confusion in today’s society. I think it fair to say, however, that we have all had a hand in trashing our traditional values and institutions. It is paradoxical that high technology with all of its great promise to improve our lives, in fact, has been used as the reason for us to create a society that by any historical standard is troubled! Crime in all of its forms, including violence, is at epidemic proportions and the personal conduct of almost a majority of our citizens leaves much to be desired. Our basic institutions such as the family, school, religious institutions and government not only often fail to achieve their objectives, but sometimes, through their muddling, make the problems we face much worse!
    In today’s environment it is difficult to overcome the temptations of self-indulgence and overcome the cynicism we have developed and the almost constant challenges to our integrity. Yet, for our own good and the good of our families, we have to examine some fundamental aspects of our lives. Corporate America must behave as highly-principled and socially responsible in all of its business practices.
    In today’s society we must look beneath the surface of this simple question and throw out answers that suggest material wealth or power. These achievements tend to corrupt and in the final analysis, are meaningless. Instead think of your life as a statement to your children and others of what you learned is most important and enduring about yourself. Integrity, honesty, courage, compassion, fairness, justice, ethical behavior and kindness are the virtues by which you will always be judged as a leader, a parent, or a neighbor.
    As a leader you must constantly be on the lookout, not to feel as if you become power itself, and think of yourself as invincible. You are in this position of leadership to serve the people honestly and with integrity. You have to serve as an example of true virtues. Do not let your position of leadership get to your head. People have nothing to fear but fear itself. We must overcome it.
    In a world where the competition for economic success has blinded humanity to our values and the cost of economic success has blinded us from adhering to the true precepts of honesty and integrity.
    When we are accountable for something within our power or control we are said to be responsible. Since humans have the capacity to make moral decisions, we also have the obligation to make correct decisions or face some consequence.
    The concept of responsibility is universal. It is found throughout our human history and is prominent in the thinking of every tribe, village or nation that has ever existed. Responsibility became the anvil that society used to forge acceptable social behavior on the part of its members. It also became a yardstick used by individuals to decide whether their actual behavior matched what they knew was the right thing. This is called conscience.
    All societies fashion laws, customs, rituals, religions and taboos to quantify and qualify levels of responsibility for each member or group. A child is not held to the same level of responsibility as an adult. An individual employed by the public is held to a higher standard of behavior than someone employed by a private concern. Although these groups must be held responsible as well, fashioning similar standards for corporations and governments has been more difficult. When people form a group, like they do in building an organizational entity, many of the usual social norms used to pressure individuals will not apply. The social pressure generated by peers, parents, neighbors, religion, and law do not have the same effect on an organization’s behavior as they do on an individual. An organization, per se, does not have a conscience. The leaders of the organization provide the conscience of the organization.
    Unfortunately, some leaders have concluded that the organization is immune from the usual social pressures, or that they can ignore these pressures while their questionable behavior continues. While this may be expedient or profitable in the short term, eventually most organizations that operate in this fashion lose the trust of the public and are eventually reformed or forced out of existence. This is part of the problem currently facing the corporate structure of our society today.
    If the concept of responsibility is to work for nations, individuals or organizations, then appropriate actions must be rewarded and inappropriate behavior corrected or punished. Throughout history, understanding and accepting individual responsibility has been one objective of the legal system, child rearing and the teaching of the religious and education system. Individual responsibility was honored while individuals who did not act in a responsible manner were punished. Depending on the time frame, society used methods for compliance that were Draconian, such as hanging or shunning, forcing an acceptable level of compliance. Society has also used the similar disciplinary measures with rulers who were not responsible. In the case of the king, it was rebellion and beheading. More recently, in the case of Nazi Germany and Japan, it was virtual destruction. In regard to current standards of responsibility, one could argue the nations of Iran, Iraq and Libya are walking on thin ice!
    While this degree of punishment on the part of our society might not meet the fainthearted standards of justice held by some “enlightened liberals,” harsh measures have always made the point to individuals, organizations and nations that acts have their consequences. Responsibility in behavior is a concept that has certainly stood the test of time.
    In North America, currently our different societies are having more difficulty with people, corporations and governmental organizations accepting, evading or denying responsibility. A recent survey by the Ethics Associations suggests that more than half of the present work force commits a serious ethical or criminal violation each year in response to what it claims is pressure on the job. I would not suggest this data, or the voluminous newspaper accounts of the unethical behavior of politicians, sports figures, movie stars, corporate executives and a whole lot of other people who ought to know better, indicate the problem has reached epidemic proportions. But, it has become a problem that needs to be addressed.
    What makes the problem more vexing is that it seems more fashionable these days to find someone or something else to blame for our personal and organizational misdeeds. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if someone at the White House, the Pentagon, the Congress, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the movie industry stood up and said, “I am responsible for that blunder, I am sorry and I’ll try a bit harder.” This would require character.
    What makes the problem more vexing is that it seems more fashionable these days to find someone or something else to blame for our personal and organizational misdeeds. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if someone at the White House, the Pentagon, the Congress, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the movie industry stood up and said, “I am responsible for that blunder, I am sorry and I’ll try a bit harder.” This would require character.
    It could be argued that blaming others is perfectly normal. After all we are human, not angels! However, the good character we try to achieve cannot be attained by blaming others for our shortcomings, nor can individuals achieve lasting success in their personal or organizational lives by using unethical and expedient means while avoiding responsibility when they do wrong.
    “The end never justifies the means” is an old cliché several generations seem not to have learned.
    Responsibility is not something each individual has a choice. Shortly after birth you get it! You will continue to have more placed upon your shoulders as you grow older, smarter and more reliable. This will continue until your behavior indicates you cannot accept anymore. I hope when taking the oath as a leader you realized you were asking for double or triple the amount of responsibility carried by most other people.
    We all know people who try to evade their responsibilities. Few ever fully succeed and most are eventually exposed and punished. Much of the punishment is self-inflicted. Other people may be denied employment, promotions, or fired from their positions. In areas where responsibility is impossible to deny, such as in a school or the athletic field, people who do not accept responsibility usually do poorly. In marriage, a lack of responsibility often leads to divorce, poor parenting and an overall miserable existence.
    As a member of the leadership community, we accept additional responsibilities by the nature of our work. We also accept double the consequences if we fail. Responsibility is a pervasive, all-encompassing aspect of our lives. We must face that it is virtually impossible to escape responsibility as a leader – (be it government, corporate or religious, etc.) both on and off the job, particularly if we aspire to a position that requires a significant amount of leadership.
    Wouldn’t it be easier for us to say to ourselves, “I will be responsible, and I will accept responsibility no matter what the consequences? Period.”? It doesn’t take any more energy to accept responsibility than to evade it. By accepting responsibility for your character and behavior you must have the courage to be held accountable for your actions. You won’t be able to blame mom or dad, the environment, your lack of money, your ignorant supervisor, or other people who just do not understand you. You will have to say, “It is my fault, and I’ll try and do better next time.” These are tough words to say. Nonetheless, once you are honest with yourself, there is a freedom that comes over you that is exhilarating! No more energy wasted in trying to convince other people you are something you know you are not! No more fear that someone will expose you as a phony. No more time wasted trying to find someone else to blame. No more shopping for the most impressive labels to help bolster your feelings of self-worth.
    While this is simple advice, it often is hard to follow. Hell, we are human and we all make mistakes. Shake your head at your own stupidity; laugh at yourself if you can. Decide to try and do better tomorrow. The good Lord knows when I make these mistakes, the first thing I do is to look for the wife, kids, close family and friends. But as we get older and wiser, we realize that we are the problem, not them. Things are better now (but the damage has been done!). This is called being honest with yourself. It is healthy thing to do.
    Just remember that individuals who want to be known throughout the leadership and community as people of good character always keep trying to improve themselves. You have to realize, and accept, that to be committed to a higher standard of conduct you will often be called upon lower your values to a more common denominator. You have to be willing to risk all that you have to maintain your commitment to a higher standard. If you are looking for an example of a “tough leader” this would be the type of individual who would best fit the bill.
    There have been many articles and books written on the subject of leadership. Personally, I don’t think the subject of leadership is that difficult or complex to understand? A leader provides direction, makes decisions, is at times inspiring or insightful, and most importantly, sets a good example for others to follow. To do this entire well an individual needs a commanding knowledge of the job, a strong commitment to the values of honesty, courage, compassion, truth and self-discipline. The leader also needs to be respected. Respect need not arise from fear, but rather from the fact that the leader has the sense to do the right thing and the will to make things happen. All of these personality characteristics allow an individual to objectively gather the facts at hand and make the right decision. Hindsight may later indicate it wasn’t the best decision, but given the circumstances at the time of the event, it still was a decision made for the right reasons. This is all we can ask of a leader!
    Leaders are made, not born! Leadership is not a gift of genetics, it is a combination of knowledge, personality, and habit–all of which we learn from parents, brothers and sisters, schoolwork, teachers, peers and from the other educational experiences during our lives. Leaders have moral courage, strong wills and an understanding of the concept of responsibility. They have a great deal of self-discipline, confidence in the ability of others and the self-assurance to let others participate in the decision-making process. It is quite possible that a leader not occupy a high position in life.
    By contrast, the worst leaders I observed during my career were those who lacked self-confidence, didn’t trust anyone and tried to micro-manage every situation. They considered themselves experts in every field and were fonder of talking than listening. Depending on their personalities, they either couldn’t delegate or delegated everything. In either case, their strategy was designed to protect themselves above all else. These were not individuals with strong character traits. On the contrary, they were shallow people either hiding behind their rank, their Gucci loafers or their stylized hair cut. When something went wrong they looked for an excuse, a scapegoat or a cover-up to avoid being held responsible.
    Yes, many lousy leaders we have all known did not realize that leaders have to take responsibility, sometimes for something they had no control over. Leaders, like ducks, get shot at and sometimes hit. The good ones accept this as part of the territory. The others usually claim they were in the restroom at the time of the incident!
    Public trust, is defined as the faith the public has in organizations that are created to protect our basic freedoms. Examples of some of these organizations would be our courts, the military, the legislative and executive branches of government at all levels: public health, social services, and fire and rescue services, as weak as law enforcement organizations. Each citizen has an expectation that public organizations, and each member of the organization, will discharge their duties in a competent manner and not abuse authority granted to them by law. Not only does the citizen pay for these services, but they have relinquished some of their individual freedoms to ensure that the government has the ability to look after their well-being. Consequently, a sworn member of a law enforcement organization is held to a far higher standard of conduct than other public employees because they have been entrusted with great power. An abuse of this power always is a betrayal of the public trust and is seldom tolerated in a democratic society. Hence, the punishment of cops, FBI agents, DEA agents, prosecutors and judges who abuse the powers and privileges granted them by the public is always harsh!
    Public trust is a precious commodity not only to organizations in the public sector, but to organizations in the private sector. To be successful in the private sector a corporation has to have the public’s trust in the products it sells or the services it provides. Should this trust waver, or be lost, the corporation encounters a serious problem that may include being forced out of business. Why many well-known corporations would jeopardize public trust through their questionable business practices is very hard to understand. Was it demand to show greater profits? Ignorance? Or was it that they all thought the corporation was above the law and the scrutiny of the public? Squandering a company’s reputation to make a quick buck is a very high price to pay for a lack of some employee’s ethical standards and the lack of oversight of these individuals. Similar problems beset the public sector. Unfortunately, some government organizations do not treat taxpayers as if they were customers. Disrespect, rudeness, inefficiency and abuses of power by government employees are well-documented and not uncommon. Virtually every public organization has employees who abuse the power of their position at the expense of others. However, you can bet that the public, tiring of inefficiency and insensitive behavior of these individuals, will call for heads to roll.
    Assuming responsibility for wrongful acts. My sense is that the best damage control is the truth. I would argue that truth is what has always worked best and is what the public wants to hear. Most of the population understand that leaders often run into difficult, demanding and complex situations. Occasionally, government personnel will make a mistake and do something that may be a violation of policy or law, or perhaps, just a failure to use common sense. All the public requires to sustain its faith in the organization is that reasonable people within the organization give the matter serious consideration and take whatever corrective steps are required.
    This takes moral courage on the part of the leader to operate an organization in this fashion. You have given up some of your control of the situation. You have possibly put your job on the line and the troops or the union may initially criticize you for not immediately and vigorously defending them. It is quite probable that a minority of the public will never accept your explanations or actions and will continue their criticism for a long time.
    The bottom line is that taking responsibility is what leaders, and directors get paid to do. This is what being a leader, or a duck, is all about.
    Tough words — responsibility, honesty, leadership and public trust and accountability. They are even tougher to put into practice and blend into your own character. But if we are successful in building our character into a reflection of what those words mean, the personal reward is worth far more than the effort required. Peace of mind, respect, admiration and the ability to withstand life’s curve balls are a few of the benefits of being a person of character. I am still working on my character, and believe me, I still have a long way to go. I hope you also think it is a worthwhile, lifelong endeavor.
    The media has the responsibility and obligation to tell the truth and the facts as they are, it must not panic the public and cause havoc. It must not divulge national secrets that can jeopardize our nation and our soldiers.
    Compiled by: Yehuda Draiman

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