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How about them apples?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dave Pike
  • 911th Air Refueling Squadron commander
Stop for a moment and imagine a big, red, juicy, perfect apple. Now think about the best squadron you've ever been a part of. Can you think of anything in common? Probably not... So how could thinking about an apple help make your organization the best it can be? Let me explain.

I like to think of a great squadron as having three distinct elements that fit together to make one amazing unit. The image of an apple helps me visualize this. To keep it simple, think of an apple as having three parts. An apple has a core, the fruit surrounding the core and a protective skin.

In comparison, I believe every great organization likewise consists of three elements. First and foremost, a great squadron has to have a firm foundation or core in order to operate and accomplish the mission. The core I'm describing as it pertains to a squadron is based upon the U.S. Air Force core values: Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do. When the climate in an Air Force squadron exhibits these values, a premier military organization is the result. Good order and discipline, compliance with guidance and instructions, and upholding standards are the fruits that come forth. Being a premier military organization is the core that must be established and nurtured to provide the required framework and structure for the organization to operate at its best.

The second part of an apple is the fruit surrounding the core. This part of an apple dictates how good it is. The crisper, juicier and sweeter this part of an apple is, the better it is. Using this analogy, a squadron with a viable core will be surrounded by great fruit. This fruit permeates the entire organization and enables it to act like a high-performance team.

Just as the crisp, juicy, fruit is better tasting than mealy, withered, or rotting fruit, a high performance team structure will likewise make a squadron better than one that has a breakdown in teamwork.

What are the characteristics of a high performance team? First, high performance teams are not afraid of hard work. They set high, but achievable goals and work together to accomplish them. Coaches come up with the practice schedule and game plan, they monitor performance, and they put key folks in the right positions to maximize that performance. They also recognize those that exceed expectations.

Most importantly, high performance teams pull together and exhibit amazing cooperation, attention to detail and innovative solutions to problems when overcoming challenges. They are resilient and buckle down when times are tough. They constantly have each other's backs and celebrate individual and team victories. They have a feeling of pride in themselves and in being a part of something bigger than they are. They are the best at what they do and most importantly-- they win together! Undoubtedly, the better the team concept a squadron possesses, the better it will prepare for and perform in the big games (UCIs, ASEVs, HSIs, LCAPs and etc.)

The third part of an apple is the skin. The skin holds everything together and protects the insides and more vulnerable parts. As the skin surrounds the apple, a squadron needs to be surrounded by the element of being a good family. Much like great teams, good families are resilient and supportive. They provide that special touch, spice to life, and the little things that make such a big difference in people's live-- especially during trying times. They also make time to have fun.

Having a solid network in a squadron to provide a protective covering and also a fun outlet for members and their families is very important, but sadly, often neglected. Making the time and taking the effort to meet social needs while reaching out and taking care of folks during the difficult times is the skin. That skin forms a lasting bond that will protect and keep an organization together under tough circumstances. Maintaining fun and meaningful traditions and developing a sense of family adds that extra barrier from internal and external pressures.

I truly believe that a squadron that can be a premier military organization, a high performance team, and a family all in one, is unstoppable. This three-in-one concept is only possible through the sustained efforts of leaders and individuals coming together in all three aspects to achieve the higher purpose. We each have our talents and unique skills we bring to the fight. Think about where you as an individual (as a vital part of the organization) can plug in and make each part better.

We can all work on being the absolute best military professionals and examples we can be. We can all be great wingmen. What about being a great teammate? Are you pulling your weight? Are you encouraging and cheering on those around you? Is your positive, can-do attitude contagious? Where do you fit into your unique squadron team? If you have questions or doubts maybe you should ask the coach or one of the assistants.

Maybe you are the coach or one of the assistants. Does your game plan make sense? What about the family? Are you being a good brother, sister, guardian or parent figure? Are you looking for opportunities to add a little fun, restore the balance or make yourself available to volunteer in helping put on squadron family events? I challenge you to think about your unique talents and try putting them to use in different areas; try stretching yourself out of your comfort zone and doing things you may not have done.

As we are working hard preparing for the upcoming CUI, I challenge you to take a minute to think about an apple. We are all in a premier military organization. We are all on the same team and in the Air Force family. Let's continue to keep our focus, work diligently to accomplish the mission, win the big game and take care of our own-- while having a little fun along the way.