Since Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein announced his initiative to revitalize squadrons, the assigned task force produced many visible changes and is moving forward with additional changes in an implementation plan.
“The squadron is the beating heart of the United States Air Force; our most essential team,” Goldfein said in a letter to Airmen. “Our vision demands that ‘squadrons be highly capable, expeditionary teams who can successfully defend our nation's interests in both today's and tomorrow's complex operating environments.’"
The task force conducted an Air Force-wide review, driven by Airmen in the field, to promote best practices and identify improvements. Consisting of Total Force Airmen from diverse backgrounds, they reviewed survey data and gathered inputs from across the Air Force through on-line crowd sourcing and face-to-face discussions with nearly 4,000 individuals, including spouses, from 25 different bases representing all major commands, Reserve and National Guard.
Along the way, the Air Force implemented improvements to include authorizations to rebuild the command support staffs, while addressing the manning for superintendents. Additionally, enlisted professional military education has been improved, performance report requirements have been removed for the rank of airman first class, computer-based and ancillary training requirements have been reduced, all based on the feedback from Airmen.
“This is incredibly humbling and exciting to be a part of because if we can get this right, we can hopefully impact the lethality and effectiveness of the entire Air Force,” said Col. Russell Williford, current director of the revitalizing squadrons task force. “We can also make Airmen’s lives better and more fulfilled.”
The team further analyzed the feedback to develop a comprehensive model for squadron vitality.
According to the findings indicated in the implementation plan, Williford said there are three key attributes to a successful squadron: verifiable mission success, purposeful leadership and esprit de corps.
These key attributes are being implemented through three lines of effort: focus on the mission, strengthen leadership and culture, and taking care of Airmen and Ffmilies.
Focus on the mission
Verifiable mission success means aligning a clearly stated mission purpose from the command-level down to each task an Airman performs. Highly successful squadrons clearly define, understand, and communicate their purpose, asking every member of the squadron, “why?” until the purpose behind every task is aligned to mission success.
While this may appear rather easy, the team found that many units struggled with clearly defining and communicating their purpose.
Verifiable mission success drives a culture described as “mission command” in which members of the unit clearly understand why their unit exists; therefore, their efforts are directly in-line with mission outcomes, which enables empowerment throughout the unit.
The plan also calls for better enabling squadron leaders to focus on their missions. For example, support staffs will work with commanders to push daily decision authority to the lowest practical level while scrubbing overly restrictive Air Force Instructions and updating organization models to align with the new National Defense Strategy.
This helps every Airman gain a clarity of purpose to understand how they contribute, add value and are valued.
Strengthening squadron leadership and culture
Purposeful leadership means valuing mission outcomes, investing time in Airmen development, and creating an environment where taking smart risks is rewarded to find better ways of getting the mission done, seizing the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
Starting in the fall an Air University squadron commander foundational course will be launched to better prepare officers (and civilians for squadron-like units) for purposeful command.
“The first time an Airman leads a large team is as a flight chief or a flight commander,” Williford said. “So flight commander and flight chief courses will be developed at the wing-level to help enable leaders to focus on the key skills to succeed in this first essential level of leadership.”
In addition, boosting mental and physical fitness is a key ingredient of the leadership and culture line of effort. While there will be no changes to physical fitness standards and tests, squadron leadership gains authority for administering physical fitness tests, and wing commanders will build incentive programs to reward innovative unit-level fitness programs that increase Airmen readiness.
Taking care of Airmen and their families
Williford said the third, esprit de corps, may happen naturally when the previous two are in place.
“It means belonging to a group that’s respected, and they are accomplishing something that’s larger than themselves,” he said. “They are warfighters who belong to a valued team doing meaningful work. That alignment of purpose to the respective unit, to being a member of this group is what we found creates a high level of esprit de corps.”
The plan includes helping squadrons better support Airmen and families by building on their resilience, strengthening family support programs and community connections.
“We tangibly discovered that focusing on supporting families gave the Airmen more focus at work,” Williford said. “An Airman who is fulfilled and has a good work-life balance comes to work more focused.”
“The process of being able to achieve that long-term vision that the CSAF and the Secretary of the Air Force have, that’s incredible exciting,” the director of the task force said. “We know it’s a long process to get there, but we’re excited to be a part of it.”