Staying connected and developing a culture of caring

  • Published
  • By Col. Bary Flack, 436th MXG commander
  • 436th Maintenance Group

Many of us are or have struggled with personal issues, mental health problems, COVID stress, financial strain, work strain, family strain, or have dealt with losing a friend, fellow Airman or family member to suicide.  We may feel like we have lost those connections that make us feel whole.  We all strive for connectedness and belonging; we simply desire to know someone cares and that we are acknowledged as being important and impactful. 

Let me tell you a little secret: each Airman and family member in this wing impacts more than you realize; YOU are vitally important to our mission but more so to our Team Dover family. 

We care about YOU!

But to ensure connectedness and to make the idea of a caring culture come to realization we all need to act.  We strive to develop a culture where each Airman can become the greatest versions of themselves, to care for one another and enable each Airman to thrive under an umbrella of psychological safety where the stigma of mental health issues are muted.  We should, in this current state of the COVID pandemic, look for those areas where Airmen can stay connected and have some fun along the way, all the while executing our mission to the best of our ability.  But how do we do that?

It takes personal engagement, a moment in time and positive leadership engagement at all levels to let someone know they are cared for and to make them feel connected.

  1. Be the best part of someone else’s day.  You never know what saying, “Thank you,” patting someone on the back, showing someone you care or simply smiling as you pass by does to better someone else’s day.  No matter the positive gesture, go out of your way to acknowledge your Wingman, call an old friend to say hello or sit and listen to a fellow Airman who simply wants to unload.  I remember a simple gesture a fellow officer gave me during a particular period I was having a tough time with a few years ago while working in the Pentagon.  He simply came over, patted me on the back, told me I was valued for my service and expertise and not to forget tomorrow is a new day.  He did not have to do that, but he did.  That little gesture by him showing he cared immediately bettered my day and improved how I moved forward working the program I was entrusted with.  It’s the small gestures and positive engagements that matter, they all build to positive connections. Strive to be the best part of someone else’s day!
  2. Make a memory.  One of my favorite movies of all time is “Dead Poets Society” and Robin Williams happens to be one of my favorite actors of all time.  In the movie he plays a teacher and mentors a group of young men in a poetry class.  His ways of reaching into the souls of his students was a main focus of the film.  In one particular scene he states, “Carpe Diem … make your lives extraordinary!” In his own way he was pushing his students to live life with vigor, have fun and make a memory with those they loved.  I am always reminded of my time growing up with my family in New Mexico, my time in college while active in my fraternity or my days in service while in the Air Force.  Those times with friends and fellow Airmen making a memory through trips, athletic events, social engagements, multiple TDYS, etc.  Those connections, those memories, and positive thoughts always bring a smile to my face.  Go make a memory today!
  3. For leaders at all levels, Airmen want to know you care.  Leadership is a full on contact sport, and leaders from all tiers should strive to be connected to their Airmen.  What does this mean?  Well, a lot. It means knowing your Airmen and their families, knowing their story, knowing what makes them tick, who their favorite teams or bands are; just understanding who they truly are as a person not just the fact they are an Airman in your work center, flight or squadron.  Part of positive engagement and connecting as leaders is to win the hearts and minds of those we are entrusted to care for and lead.  It simply means showing Airmen you care and showing a level of empathy when needed.  Sometimes that means listening when needed and other times acting on their behalf when warranted.  As a young lieutenant many years ago I had a very wise chief master sergeant in the 437th Aerial Port Squadron tell me, “Sir, the day you lose the Airmen is the day we hinder the mission.  They simply want to know you care, if you do that, no telling how far they’ll go for you.”  He was right, and that conversation helped frame my leadership philosophy as a young officer that I still use today: that positive leadership engagement is key to bettering culture, to Airmen health, and to mission accomplishment.  Airmen want to know you care!

Having connections and building a culture where Airmen know they are cared for is key to our overall mental health and mission success.  Be the best part of some else’s day, make a memory with a friend or family member, and all leaders should be active and positive in the lives of the Airmen we ask you to lead and care for.  It is really the little things that matter. All those little gestures and memories made over time will build to better health for Airmen and drive toward a culture we should all strive for, where Airmen thrive and become the greatest versions of themselves.