Community counts

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jim Lovewell
  • 821st Air Base Group deputy commander
The results of last night's "Rock Band" video game competition...

The new coffee machine at the base community center...

How loved ones back home are doing taking care of sick children...

Encouraging a fellow Airman to complete their associate's degree before PCSing...

These were just a few of the topics discussed on a recent Saturday morning at Thule Air Base, when a group of personnel took part in a snowshoe climb up "P-mountain" near the base.

It wasn't a structured resiliency event and not one PowerPoint slide was shown, just a few members of group leadership, the security forces squadron and civil engineer flight out to enjoy Thule's "summer" scenery by hiking through a foot of snow.

During the course of a few hours, we got to learn a lot about each other's interests, families and perspectives on being stationed in the Arctic. No one set out on this trip expressly to strengthen community ties or forge closer bonds, but even something as simple as shuffling through the snow had a powerful effect to those ends. This trip taught me how important it is to build activities like this into our Air Force experience.

Thule residents are united at a very basic level by living in the middle of nowhere. Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and 947 miles south of the North Pole, the base covers more than 250 square miles. Despite its physical size, the chance of seeing each of the approximately 150 U.S. military and a peak of around 600 U.S. and Danish contractors more than once a day is high. This is a place where it would be odd to see two vehicles pass each other without a wave. Welcome to Thule Air Base.

The past few months I've spent here have shown just how important shared experiences can be to attain, maintain and enhance our sense of community and belonging. Common experiences from the mundane to the adventurous explain in part why so many people up here feel so connected. Connected teams are a pleasure to be a part of. Individuals correctly feel valued for their unique contributions and the entire group is much more effective in their mission. I certainly appreciate that we as an Air Force take time out on a regular basis to focus on the things that make us resilient, but it is so important that we turn those principles into action. Building the close community people enjoy at Thule isn't the result of a complex plan, but the collective result of everything from snowshoe trips to conversations over coffee at the community center.

When I arrived in June of this year, the sun shone 24 hours a day. As of September we're back to a more normal day/night schedule and the daylight is shrinking fast. Twenty-four hours of darkness will blanket the base from late November to early March. Temperatures will drop to well below zero Fahrenheit. Each person will have to develop their own way of dealing with these conditions and no one is suggesting it will be easy.

We've got a leg up on that challenge here, however. It's called community. It grows each time our team takes a snowshoe trip, tackles an issue at work, shares a joke over lunch, extends courtesy, encourages, challenges and motivates one another. If it works here, I guarantee it works everywhere. It isn't difficult to grow and Thule doesn't have a monopoly on it. I encourage you to think about how to connect people even more effectively at work, home and around the neighborhood. Time invested in each other is certain to yield huge dividends and will go a long way toward building resilient individuals, teams and communities.