Commentary by Lt. Col. Don Daugherty
50th Operations Group, Detachment 1 commander
Has anyone ever asked you out of the blue, “Why are you here?” More specifically, “Why did you join the Air Force?” The reasons for joining the Air Force vary from person to person. They often include patriotism, great benefits, honor, belonging to a team, personal challenge, love of country and following in the family’s footsteps. For me all of these reasons applied when I joined 20 years ago. For many Airmen, a big reason is to be part of something bigger than yourself. That distinguishes military members from many other professions. We cherish being part of a team.
I initially learned the importance of teamwork while participating in high school athletics. During cross country races, a team had to get at least five members across the finish line before the other team to win. No matter how fast the first four runners were, the fifth person’s finish won or lost the competition. In crew, the team works in unison to cross the finish line first. In basketball or football, everyone must pull their weight to achieve success. All of these were won or lost as a team. The famous UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, once called teamwork, “A willingness to sacrifice personal interest or glory for the welfare of all.”
There are endless stories of the importance of teamwork during wartime. A B-17 Flying Fortress had six different gunners to protect the aircraft from enemy attack. The mission relied on all of the plane’s gunners doing their job to ensure bombs made it to target. While being held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Vice Admiral James Stockdale was held captive in the well known “Hanoi Hilton” prison. His captors planned to film the captured naval aviator, exploiting him for propaganda purposes. To prevent this, Vice Admiral Stockdale deliberately injured and disfigured his own face. He couldn’t tolerate the thought of letting his team down. In 2011, during the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden, members of the Navy’s Seal Team Six operated as a coordinated team on the extremely dangerous mission. They each performed the mission and achieved their objective. Unlike the winning team of a Super Bowl or World Series, their names remain unknown to the public. The mission truly epitomizes service values such as service before self.
Teamwork requires integrity as well as selflessness. Being on the team has become a way of life for many of us. We’ve all seen examples of people who do not put the team first. There are those who seek personal gain, even at the expense of others. During Air Force training, you likely heard the phrase, “We don’t lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those among us who do.” This simple phrase serves as a cornerstone of military service and should never be taken lightly.
Each year the public is given a survey to identify the most trustworthy professions. The military consistently ranks near the top thanks to the outstanding integrity of our members. I have seen several instances that reveal the great amount of trust the public places in military members. I was once selected for jury duty in the early 1990s. When the lawyers began seeking candidates for their jury they quickly realized I was a member of the armed forces. They selected me second out of a group of several hundred people, believing I would be impartial and honest.
Maintaining a winning team isn’t easy. The Air Force and the 50th Space Wing require your contributions to remain a world-class organization. It’s the responsibility of each member to ensure your unit is operating efficiently, productively and by established guidelines. Gen. Curtis Lemay had an effective policy to promote quality in Strategic Air Command during the height of the Cold War. He believed every member of SAC was just as important as the next one, regardless of a member’s rank or position. The airplane mechanic or Airman was just as important as the wing commander or colonel. Quite simply, everyone’s contributions mattered and were taken into account to ensure the mission’s success.
The answers to the challenges of our times can be found in teamwork. Recently, all members were reminded of the importance of resiliency by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. It is your responsibility as a wingman to watch out for fellow Airmen. Today’s Air Force faces budgetary challenges, a high operations tempo and great change. Don’t wait for problems to arise; seek out opportunities to work with others to prevent them. Pay special attention to Airmen struggling on their physical fitness assessment and offer some assistance. Be cognizant of potential economic hardships faced by those during the economic downturn. Watch out for others experiencing tremendous stress or difficult personal issues. It’s all about treating others as you would want to be treated.
The 50th Space Wing team boasts a long list of awards. It is a team of teams with first-class people. Being a great organization is never easy and requires its members to be strong. The American public expects a lot from its military members and Air Force. Meeting these high expectations and fully enjoying the rewards, is best experienced as part of a team. There’s nothing quite like sharing a victory with fellow warriors.