The air around us was orange. That was pretty common after a dust storm as a fine powder of sand hung in the air. Through the orange haze, I could see the mechanics going through their morning inspections of the rescue helicopters that sat on alert, ready to rapidly respond to whatever emergency might occur. As I walked toward one of the helicopters my radio broke the silence with the code word for a scramble launch. An aircraft was in trouble over enemy territory. What had been slow methodical work suddenly became a frenzy of activity as mechanics and crew performed the scramble launch dance that might have seemed confused and disorganized to an outside observer but was in reality quite efficient. While some crewmembers completed initial mission planning, others worked with mechanics to start the aircraft. In minutes the aircraft were on their way.
What made this truly amazing is that less than a year before, this combat rescue unit did not even exist. I had joined the unit only six months earlier when it consisted of only one full crew, 4 qualified mechanics, no flyable aircraft, and a rapidly approaching date to be deployed and in-place to perform our combat rescue mission. We began receiving qualified aircrews, but there were very few qualified helicopter mechanics available so most of the maintenance people assigned to us were not familiar with the helicopters, and some of them were not even mechanics.
What we did have was a mission. We were a rescue unit and our mission was to save lives. The mission was easy to understand and certainly very compelling. It only takes a single successful rescue to cement that mission in every unit member.
The U.S. Air Force’s rescue units have lived by the long-standing motto, “That Other’s May Live.” It represents the lengths rescue units will go to save lives. It means hazardous missions into unfriendly territory. It means doing whatever is necessary to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. In our case, it meant creating a complete organization in minimum time and placing it closer to that unfriendly territory than any other active unit.
Those aircraft heading off into the orange sky represented success. We had built a team from almost nothing in a very short time. One of the primary reasons for our success was that we made sure everyone understood the mission. Each individual understood why they were essential to accomplishing that mission and everyone recognized the urgency and the need to get up to speed very quickly. Our teams did extraordinary work to make that mission happen and make the unit successful.
Does your team understand their mission? Do they know their part in accomplishing that mission? Will they go out of their way to make the team successful?