I want to start with a “thank you” to all our Airmen and specifically my team over these last two months. We’ve asked for a lot of change over a short period of time from our employees to suddenly stop coming into work and to stay home full-time and find a new virtual normal.
As I’ve led the Operational Support Team (OST) in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, my challenge has been to not only keep our team connected but also model high-performance teamwork for our Base Operational Support Teams across the entire Air Force. Our charge of enhancing mission readiness and the overall wellbeing of our operational squadrons with embedded physical and mental health providers has not changed and indeed may be even more crucial in times like these.
Our 711 HPW OST team regularly reminds each other of two things. First, our work can change at a moment’s notice so we have to be flexible and ready. Second, our team must be forward thinking and able to push the envelope by taking some risks that might fail in the short-term but in the long-term, move us closer towards our goals of enhancing overall mission readiness and well-being of Airman.
This kind of thinking, attitude and atmosphere paid huge dividends for us when COVID-19 started showing up in the news.
OST Director of Operations Lt. Col. James Weinstein commented that our team was fortunate to recognize really early that effective communication and collaboration were going to be the centerpieces to ensuring our mission continued.
“We got to work,” Weinstein said, “and developed a telework plan in February. So we were ahead of the game when social distancing plans went into place.”
With this new normal quickly upon us, the challenge became how to take such a diverse team of Data Analysts, Mathematicians, Statisticians, Operations Researchers as well as five other clinical specialties, and remain high-performing and still able to meet our customers’ needs.
Dr. Roger Erich, our senior biostatistician and data team lead, said that the team knew OSTs at military bases around the country would still be actively supporting Airmen readiness so we had to ensure we could support their data needs.
“Because that’s our mission,” Weinstein said.
Virtual weekly meetings as well as at-home connections via Microsoft Teams and the Department of Defense’s Commercial Virtual Remote has allowed our data team to not only continue our prior mission, but also expand. In some ways, our data team has become even more productive. Working remotely removes many of the interruptions and disruptions we’re all familiar with in the cubicle environment.
The next team challenge was about training. We needed to continue to meet embedded medical provider training needs with a forecast to grow in the future.
Our Integrated Operational Support program manager, Dan Swenson, commented that COVID-19 has been a forcing function to help us ensure we can respond to contingencies and provide a diverse array of teaching methods for our students. We’ve re-worked our entire curriculum strategy and have begun recording lectures, hosting materials on shared collaboration platforms, and utilizing every tool at our disposal to engage students.
“Even though the team had to cancel the in-person training class in this month, we have already identified and made available critical course content to our embedded medics AF-wide for remote-learning prior to their arrival at their new assignments,” said Maj. Katie Tidwell, BSC Corps fellow.
And while our team’s high performance has continued, we have also been able to successfully onboard two personnel. These are not only massive wins for our team but also showcase the changes made in the entire 711 HPW from offices like civilian personnel to IT. It shows that we are prepared for whatever the new normal is going to look like. Agility is key, regardless of your role in this new normal.
In closing, I think I’d just like to challenge everyone out there reading this to answer two things I mentioned earlier. Are you and your teams open and flexible enough for change tomorrow? Be open, brainstorm, discuss and listen to each other early and often. Are you and your teams forward-thinking and constantly looking for ways to improve in order to better serve our Airmen, or whoever your customers might be?
Today it’s COVID-19, but there will always be change and other challenges ahead. Let’s be brave enough to move fast, take some risks, make mistakes and grow stronger together.
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