By Lt. Col. Thomas Ste. Marie
2nd Space Operations Squadron Commander
Each of us learns of the importance of teamwork throughout our professional development, both in the officer and enlisted tracks. It takes an incredible team to do incredible things and at Schriever, we certainly have both. We have teams here operating and maintaining satellite systems for billions of users worldwide — that’s pretty incredible.
But the teams we surround ourselves with don’t have to be large or formal like a squadron or a wing. They can be as small as two people if they are working toward the same goal. The wingman concept is a good start in building an incredible team and with it, I believe it can enable us to do even more incredible things. Take this story as an example:
Charles Plumb served as a fighter pilot in Vietnam with 75 combat missions under his belt when he was shot down. He ejected, parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a Prisoner of War before eventually returning home. One day at a restaurant a man approached him and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam and were shot down!” Plumb was astonished and asked “How in the world did you know that?” The man replied, “I packed your parachute!”
Plumb had to catch his breath, and then said, “If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today!” He later thought a lot about that man who had worked anonymously and diligently at the bottom of a ship carefully packing his and others’ chutes. That man held the fate of someone he did not even know right in his hands.
Plumb is now a motivational speaker and uses this experience to help his audiences recognize those who support them. His experience was nearly miraculous, one of an incredible teammate and wingman he never knew he had. But it doesn’t have to take a miracle it just takes careful team building. We can learn from this wisdom and use it to strengthen our own teams.
In our own work centers and further, in our lives, many people have a hand in “packing our parachutes.” Do we take the time to acknowledge them? When an athletic team wins a championship, who thanks the trainer or the bus driver? It takes a lot of people to earn a championship title, just like it took a lot of people to earn the title of the Best Wing in Air Force Space Command. It will take the same to get an “outstanding” in our Consolidated Unit Inspection. The connections between us are the key. It starts with recognizing these connections, and then fostering them.
In an era where life’s stresses and pressures only seem to get larger, coupled with technology speeding up the pace of life and making interactions more impersonal than ever, now is the time to focus on how we build, care for and foster our teams. Ask yourself who on your team is anonymously working on parachutes, and then ask if you have thanked them. Conversely, how is your parachute packing coming along? Who looks to you for support when they have to bail out of the jet? Have you actively reached out to those you know need support?
So get out there; foster your personal team. It shouldn’t take a near-miracle like Charles Plumb’s to make these connections. Instead, it should be something we do deliberately. Seek out those unknown wingmen and thank them. Then, go be a wingman for someone else. Incredible teams don’t just happen. They require time and effort. Making that time to connect with others is vitally important. Healthy relationships with coworkers, friends, and family are each essential to our mission success and our overall health. I believe it is a force multiplier. It will make everyone stronger in the long run and enable you and your team to do incredible things.