If you build it, they will come

  • Published
  • By Col. Mark Allen
  • 821st Air Base Group
As we change command at Thule Air Base, it is helpful to reflect back on what a team of ordinary people did, when they vaulted from a foundation of positive beliefs in the future. That foundation of hope was built by leaders who were willing to work as a team for something bigger than themselves.

Once thought to be a place like Las Vegas: "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," Thule AB is now a place where people are happy and excited to perform and support their missions. A visiting general grilled one of our senior master sergeants about all the morale issues we "surely must have" and didn't believe the senior NCO when he said, "No, really, general, it's actually very good here." No one believed it could be done.

So, how did this happen, how did Thule AB become this way?"

1. We stood shoulder-to shoulder and rejected the notion that we must survive and dull our senses just to get through a year.
2. Instead, this positive energy started stirring with the commanders and percolating amongst the senior NCOs. I have to tell you, they give much authority to commanders, but if the senior enlisted leaders hadn't hopped on board, we never would have left "Vegas."
3. Leadership engaged; the base commander went "old school." The senior NCOs and officers went on patrol to establish a self-policing environment. The base commander went back to other things.
4. Commanders decided to use the full extent of their authority in handling infractions.
5. Chaplains exhausted themselves to counsel those experiencing the fallout.
6. JA experts exhausted themselves to support commanders' disciplinary actions.
7. Contractors/AAFES reinforced base emphasis items.
8. Leaders reaffirmed one another as they made some hard calls.
9. Medical personnel exhausted themselves locally and at Peterson Air Force Base supporting this most remote base in the Arctic.
10. The team built a tenacious drive for culture change.

So what?

The improvements were seen immediately. Missions were rated "Excellent" for the first time in two years.

Team Thule advocated and garnered $300 million last year in energy, consolidation plan, and project money.

Thule leaders brought home hardware by winning many wing, Air Force Space Command and Air Force-level awards.

Commanders all successfully changed command at Thule for the first time in three years.

And the takeaway?

Mission and culture go hand-in-hand.

You cannot focus on the mission, if your culture doesn't allow it.

How absurd a statement! But, until recently, young first-term Airmen were encouraged to drink (European Command's drinking age is 18), some for their first time, within hours of landing at Thule.

Can you imagine leaving tech school where a staff sergeant is god-like, to coming to Thule and being encouraged to drink with a staff sergeant? Not to mention, Thule is pretty far north (it's located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle; it's a remote assignment for a reason), and young Airmen and officers want to fit into their first organization. To not socialize right away would be rude and perhaps mark you as an outcast ... for an entire year.

But, through leadership engagement, teamwork and communication, Team Thule brought excellence back to the wing's and the nation's northern flank.

We built the belief that we would only get what we accept, and we stopped accepting less than excellence at Thule.

I am so proud of this team, your team at Thule Air Base.

We want to thank the wing and all groups for supporting directly and indirectly some heroic efforts in an unsung place. But, excellence isn't a destination; it's a continuing journey which needs constant navigating.

Luckily, we have great leaders taking the reins at Thule. Godspeed.

(Allen is the former 821st ABG commander.)