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Key cogs of national security policy

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kenneth Moss
  • 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron
"People want to be on a team. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be in a situation where they feel that they are doing something for the greater good," said Mike Kryzyzewski, the head basketball coach for Duke University.

Coach Krzyzewsksi -- Coach K from here on out -- had insight into human nature that served him well as he has produced consistent national champions and contenders. He did this despite having a very mediocre record of producing NBA superstars, meaning he molded relatively talented players, but not the most talented, into champions. Whether or not you are a fan of college basketball or Duke University, there is no denying the system and leadership of Coach K deserves respect and admiration and that is a system we can learn from and adopt when appropriate.

Building a winning team is what the military is all about: no matter how you view war, the bottom line is that it is one side (team) against another side (team) in a contest of wills and strategy. The rules by which war is waged are much less well-defined than in sports however, so the focus on how each side prepares to fight takes many forms.

Since the 1980s, the United States military has used a strategy of providing the best possible equipment to its combatants in the hopes of getting a "forfeit" from the other side before risking any lives. This worked for a while, but we eventually discovered an opponent who followed different rules, played a different game and found success against us. We learned that simply being the best equipped wasn't going to be enough. The problem was we had not thought through any other options. So what do we do?

I propose we follow Coach K's lead and refocus our approach. As Duke University has proven, you do not have to be the best equipped (although they might be) or the best at your position (job) to be the most successful team. What is required is that everyone believes in the cause, sacrifices their individual wants and desires for the good of all and trusts that their fellow teammates (Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen) will do the same. If everyone contributes then the result will have impact far beyond the location of the game itself.

To some degree, we have been doing this at the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. The leadership team here consistently emphasizes the role all have in the success of the wing mission: each and every person is a key cog in getting the mission done. But, the effect of every person on this base goes beyond the base mission. President Obama's most recent National Security Strategy outlined seven priorities, two of which are solely in the U.S. Central Command, and two others rely largely on military efforts within this region.

For those who were not aware, this wing has the most geographically diverse mission of any in CENTCOM. We conduct operations daily in all three regions of CENTCOM, and we are the only wing to do so. What does that mean? It means the 380th AEW has, arguably, the most direct impact on the implementation of National Security Policy than any other base in the world, and we are all a part of that.

Every day that you wake up and head to work, you are ensuring that the president's national security priorities are being implemented. By the way, the feedback from the senior military leadership is that you are doing it incredibly well, too (if you did not know that, it is high time you did). But, we can never be satisfied with what we have done. Like Coach K's teams, we need to look ahead at what more we can do. You should be asking yourself every day, "Am I contributing to the mission? Is what I'm doing helping or hurting the ability of the base to get the mission done?" Your answer will in large part determine the length of the mission here because the better we all do our jobs, the sooner we can all go home to our families and loved ones.

As leaders, we should be asking, "Do my people know how they impact the mission? Do they know that they are instrumental in enacting national policy? Do they know they make a difference?" The answer to this one must be a resounding, "yes!" If our people do not know how they support the mission, if they do not know how their actions every day contribute to the success of the 380th AEW, if they do not feel connected to something larger than themselves, then we will have failed to learn from Coach K's teams.

Implementing national security policy is so complex it requires contributions from all members of the team; everyone is a "key cog" to success. If we can't get all "players" to contribute in an effort to win what is truly a "national championship" then we are left to hope that simply being better equipped can win the day, and hope has not been a successful course of action for the past 10 years.

Lt. Col. Kenneth Moss is the commander of the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.