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The best unit

Maj. Michael Troyer, 52nd Network Warfare Squadron commander, stands for a photo February 2016 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Maj. Michael Troyer, 52nd Network Warfare Squadron commander, stands for a photo February 2016 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Have you ever heard someone say, "The previous unit I was at was the best," or, "The unit I'm going to next is the best?" When I hear that, I usually think the person doesn't like their current unit. Also, it makes me wonder what makes a unit the best. 

The best times I’ve had were at units where I made an impact. For instance, when my combat communications squadron provided support to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Or, at U.S. Cyber Command, we stopped major cyber threats across the globe on 12-hour shifts. Or, at my current unit, where we identify insider threats during the weekend. 

In all instances, the unit worked long hours, all were vested in the mission and we connected for a purpose larger than our individual feelings; which is why I believe the best units are mission-focused.

When units are mission-focused, there is a commonality that creates a resilient and thriving environment. According to Peter Drucker, management consultant, if the organization is not effective in its mission, then dedication declines and reduces its ability to attract people who want to perform [1]. If they are effective, then it is a source of strength, people are proud of what they do and it's easier to overcome obstacles [2]. A mission-focused unit is not about the comfortable building, the base or social events; but a culture centered on the mission.

In a mission-focused unit, members work closely and are less likely to stray from the group. There is a sense of support, accountability and comradeship. I believe the environment encourages members to think twice before breaking the unit's core values. 

Stephen Ambrose, in his book, “Band of Brothers,” also wrote about the bond among the 101st Airborne Division and the impact it had on the individual soldier. He wrote, "Anything was better than the blood and carnage, the grime and filth, the impossible demands made on the body—anything, that is, except letting down their buddies [3]."

A unit focused on mission understands the importance of the collective group. Many of the challenges we face; we need one another. I believe people are looking for support and accountability. In John McCain’s book, “Why Courage Matters [4],” he discussed the importance of the group connection among the POWs.     

McCain wrote, "In prison, I was not always a match for my enemies... Fortunately, I shared my circumstances with hundreds of brave men who insisted on a communal code of conduct; we would all return with honor. Each man's suffering was our shared concern, each man's resistance our shared responsibility... Each man was expected to resist to the best of his ability. 

“But we relied on one another to strengthen our ability, to encourage us when we felt used up, to assure us that there was no dishonor in trying but falling short of how we perceived our duty in one instance, if we recovered and tried again…

“When we saw both our duty and our courage as a common experience, our duty was easier to bear and our courage more at the ready. We completed one another’s sense of honor, and it made us stronger.

“Had each of us been kept in separate prisons, unable to communicate with one another, to share one another's experiences to depend on one another, had we been forced to rely on our individual pride and strength, many more of us would have lost our courage and our honor."

It's been my experience that a mission-focused unit operates like a family. Just like a family, there is a connection and accountability between the members, which creates an environment people are drawn to. 

Members are looking for a place to belong, and we all need an extended family. If we don't make them feel like they belong, we will have missed opportunities, and, as a result, one day you may hear, "the unit I'm going to next is the best."
 

[1] P. F. Drucker, The Peter F. Drucker reader: selected articles from the father of modern management thinking. Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA, MA, pp. 128, 2017.
[2] Drucker, pp. 134.
[3] S. E. Ambrose, “Chapter 18 The Soldiers Dream Life,” in Band of brothers, London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2017, p. 289.
[4] J. McCain and M. Salter, “Chapter 8,” in Why courage matters: the way to a braver life, Ballantine Books, 2008, pp. 107–108.