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Striker Strong – Leading in Unprecedented Times

Chief Master Sergeant Kathleen M. McCool is the Command Chief Master Sergeant, 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. She is the principle advisor to the Wing Commander and staff on mission effectiveness, professional development, military readiness, training, utilization, health, morale, and welfare of the command’s 3,900 enlisted Airmen.

Chief Master Sergeant Kathleen M. McCool is the Command Chief Master Sergeant, 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. She is the principle advisor to the Wing Commander and staff on mission effectiveness, professional development, military readiness, training, utilization, health, morale, and welfare of the command’s 3,900 enlisted Airmen.

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

Nothing has prepared me for this situation.  I cannot sleep and I am constantly rolling through my mind’s rolodex looking for examples, stories, situations, anything I can pull to help with the daily struggles of leading and advising our senior leaders through an unprecedented pandemic. 

There are a few things that come immediately to mind: be the calm in the storm, be positive and provide hope to others.   But they do not wholly address the multiple, complex scenarios we face. There are no right answers. There are only the best answers.  Tensions are high, people process this situation differently and opinions abound. As I write this at 4:30 a.m. (and I have been awake for an hour), all kinds of scenarios and thoughts ramble in my head.

We have predictions on how this pandemic could progress: how many people could be sick, hospitalized, or die. Based on those models, the predictions can either be highly accurate or inaccurate.  If it is exactly as experts predict, it will be bad and people will say we didn’t do enough to get ahead of it.  If it doesn’t follow the model at all people will say we were too restrictive. Not understanding the very measures we put into place are likely the reason we flattened the curve and spaced out the worst of it in order to handle the patient load. 

Our Global Strike Command gave us a plan to follow this year, a strategy to align our priorities with the command’s.  In that strategy, we are focused on excellence, teams and people.  We had discussions, we brainstormed how we would apply it to Team Whiteman.  We developed action plans. We began to tackle innovation, resilience, outreach, mission execution—and in one tumultuous week it all got pushed to the side to focus on COVID-19. 

Every plan, every idea, every discussion seemed to take a backseat to the most urgent needs of fighting COVID-19.  It felt, and sometimes still feels, as if our best laid plans were thrown out the door, but I soon realized that using the same framework of excellence, teams and people, we can still find our way forward and tackle these new challenges head-on.

Excellence looks different today than it did three weeks ago.  Today, excellence looks like not taking more toilet paper than you need from the commissary. Yes, it sounds funny but it is true.  Think of others; balance your needs with theirs. Excellence today looks like staying home and having your children play in the yard instead of the park.  Excellence looks like maintaining your social distance and ensuring your kids are doing the same. Today, excellence looks like leaders diligently working via video chat. Today, excellence looks like balancing our readiness needs for anticipated enemies while engaging the enemy we face today ... this pandemic.  Excellence today also looks like finding ways to better your team.

What does it mean to be a part of a team when you are teleworking, not working, or are still grinding it out day after day in a mission critical job?

First, it looks like practicing the excellence just discussed.  Your team is counting on you to follow the guidelines. Your team is counting on you and your families to take precautions seriously.  It only takes one individual exposed to the virus to unknowingly infect their entire team. The more precautions you put into place, the better chances we all have. We must remain globally competitive and to do that, we must remain as healthy as possible.

Second, being a part of team today, means not physically seeing all of your people, but connecting with them anyway: calling, texting, messaging them and asking, “How are you doing?” It means calling your quarantined neighbor and asking what they need from the commissary, the BX, and if they have eaten dinner. 

Finally, being a teammate means leaving a birthday basket on the door of someone who cannot leave their house to let them know they are not alone.  I experienced this teamwork and connection from my wingmen and it is something I will never forget.  Our current challenges are changing the way I look at what it means to be a better friend, leader and teammate. As a team we will get through this and we will learn a lot in the process.

As we fight this virus, we must remember that people are a priority; people are the most important part of what we do. People are the reason I cannot sleep.  People are why we are all trying so hard to get it right.  We want to protect you, your children, your parents, your teammates and our country. We want things to be “normal” but realize we do not know what “normal” is right now—or in two weeks from now.  We want you informed and prepared, but we do not want you scared and stressed. 

YOU MATTER.  Taking care of people means reaching out, sharing stories, finding innovative ways to connect.  This is the perfect time to look at our younger generation and see all the ways they connect when they are not together.  Read a book.  Clean the garage. Take a nap. Take a walk. Hunt for (teddy) bears. FaceTime your best friend. Call your family. Take an online class.  Maybe most importantly, take a deep breath and know we are going to get through this together.