Teamwork: Know your role and responsibilities

  • Published
  • By Col. Kimerlee Conner
  • 21st Mission Support Group commander
About two years ago, I wrote a very similar article to this one. The basis was, and is, being a team player and understanding your roles and responsibilities, particularly in an emergency situation scenario. Reading the recent report from our last Condor Crest exercise, it was apparent that a reminder was in order. So, for those of you who read the last article, this will look familiar, but the message is enduring.

Teamwork is defined as a cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause. Examples are seen virtually every day in the world around us. Sports teams are common, but you don't have to look beyond the gates of Peterson AFB to see numerous examples of teamwork in action! Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, recent base exercises have shown the critical roles each and every member of our "team" plays and how success (or failure) is a result of the individual's commitment to the larger team.

During our last exercise, there were some very clear examples of people not doing what they knew they were supposed to, and in some instances blatantly doing things they knew they were not supposed to. Either way, this is a poor demonstration of teamwork and puts us all at risk. A few examples include people failing to properly execute trained procedures for lockdown, shelter-in-place, and single entry point. A single individual failing to follow procedures can have grave effects on everyone else.

We all need to realize real world and exercise events provide opportunities to better prepare us for worst case scenarios. The exercise events are not tailored just for emergency responders, they're for everyone!

The following two examples should not be new to you, but they help re-orient what our readiness mind-set should be and serve as a reminder not to be complacent or to take things for granted:

9/11 was a wake-up call for many. For Morgan Stanley top executive Robert Scott, who helped his company survive the heavy toll from the attacks that day, one leadership lesson is particularly clear. "If you wait for a crisis to begin to lead, it's too late."

Largely due to disaster contingency plans and the actions of well-trained managers, Morgan Stanley, the largest tenant in the World Trade Center, came through the disaster with relatively little loss of life. In the 20 minutes between the first and second plane crashes, Morgan Stanley had implemented an evacuation plan which had been put into place after the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Most of the Morgan Stanley employees made it off the high floors before the second plane hit. Because of the evacuation plan and effective employee drills, the death toll of Morgan Stanley's 3,700 employees who worked in the World Trade Center was limited to six people.

Why was Morgan Stanley so comparatively fortunate? It certainly was not luck; it was because their employees knew exactly what they were supposed to do. Every few months, 3,700 employees in the South Tower would be marched down the long winding stairwell of one of the world's highest skyscrapers and out of the building, just for practice. On 9/11, the evacuation was real.

While on a smaller scale than the mass devastation of the World Trade Center attacks, the shootings at Fort Hood indicate a threat that can be proportionately devastating and realistic on a military installation. An active shooter is generally described as an individual(s) actively engaged in killing people in a confined and populated area. Typically, there is no pattern or method to the selection of their victims. While our first responders are trained to address active shooter threats and our protocols are documented in base plans, it is important to know your own role, and how you would personally respond to these incidents. Survival is a natural instinct. Coupled with the right tools, the chances of surviving an active shooter event increases dramatically.

It does not matter if it is a terrorist attack, an active shooter event, or a natural disaster; none of us are immune, we are all susceptible to being casualties. We regularly conduct exercises to practice our ability to survive when confronted with such situations. Surely many of you have grumbled and joked just like the employees of Morgan Stanley when you have had to participate in such exercises. I can assure you the Morgan Stanley employees no longer make light of practicing; they know it can and did save their life.

As we conduct base exercises, I encourage all of you to know what your role and responsibilities are in each scenario and to participate with the urgency you would as though it were real. No matter whether you've been directed to take cover, execute a lockdown, shelter in place, or restrict access to a single point of entry, everyone else on the team expects you to do your part to the best of your ability. While many may view these activities as an inconvenience, they have a purpose and that purpose is survival, and we all have an interest in that!

How we play out the scenarios in Condor Crests and other exercises prepare us for real-world situations that could ultimately save lives. Be a part of the team -- know your role and responsibilities!