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NEWS | June 23, 2015

Reflections on teamwork…and a good read!

By Col. Scott Sauter 315th Airlift Wing vice commander

"The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility--the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole--and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before."
- Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

About a year ago I was searching for a good book and, in the 315th Airlift Wing; I've determined the best recommendations come from one of our more prolific readers, Chief Master Sgt. Tim Swick.  After gauging my interests, Chief Swick suggested "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown.  Of course, I make it a habit to listen to my senior NCOs, so I found a copy and read it right away.  It is a good thing I did!  The book was terrific; a true story chronicling the University of Washington rowing (aka "crew") team that competed in Berlin at the 1936 Summer Olympics.  The best part of the story is the account of how this group of eight rowers and their coxswain come together from  different walks of life and, over time, merge their diverse individual strengths into a "...poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades."  Spoiler alert:  They win.    Even if you are not familiar with the sport, throughout the book there are vignettes illustrating the value of teamwork. These lessons are timeless applying  to our military enterprise today. The messages in this book were strong enough for Gen. Mark Welsh to add it to his 2015 Chief of Staff's Reading List.

After finishing "The Boys in the Boat," I felt compelled to internalize the value of effective teamwork as it applies to the people and missions here at Joint Base Charleston.  Please note that my thoughts invoked the entire "Joint Base" and not solely the Reserve wing where I work.   Doing so brought together the most critical ingredients of our success - the vast resources of this base and, most importantly, its diversity.  This diversity is captured in our broad mission set; accomplished by multiple military services and service components (active and Reserve). Additionally, civilians, contractors, military families  and the local community provide support we depend on every day.  At the highest level, this "Total Force" is the embodiment of our team.  Strengthened by training and supported by leadership, this team's enduring performance is sustained by a diverse collection of skills, experiences, backgrounds and perspectives offered by all members.   No surprise here, I hope.  But taking a closer look, down to the organizational or unit level, teamwork can be more clearly evaluated and its performance easier to affect.  This is the level where we see the impact of our individual contributions to the effectiveness of our respective teams.

I believe that team building in the organizations at our Joint Base is a continuous process due to the constant turn-over of personnel and the dynamic nature of our mission sets.  Therefore, it is essential that our teams are always aware of their changing composition including strengths and weaknesses as they perform.   Training and operations serve to build effective teams but we must be cognizant of "what" makes our teams successful or unsuccessful.  We embrace diversity as it brings essential strengths and perspectives to our team's ability to make decisions and operate.   However, we must also consider the value of recognition to identify exceptional performance and best practices. We must also acknowledge the importance of resilience when our team members are faced with especially difficult challenges.  Taken together, these attributes build and strengthen the bonds of a team.  Most important, however, is our own personal ability to embrace the attributes of teamwork as we tackle tasks and challenges together.  This is the core of humility, which the author Daniel James Brown deftly identifies as the key lesson, that "subsumes individual egos" for the sake of the rowing team.  There may not be Olympic "gold" for our teams at the finish line but the outcomes of effective teamwork in our organizations make larger impacts on our units' readiness and, ultimately, our national security.

I'll close by publically thanking our 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent for his exceptional recommendation. The book was a great read and an opportunity to reflect on all of the great examples of teamwork here at Joint Base Charleston.  Finally, I should also point out that since General Welsh shares Chief Swick's taste in books, great minds must think alike!