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Bridge the Gap: “Joint” is not an assignment, it's a mindset

Col. Joel Safranek, 436th Airlift Wing commander, speaks during the wing change of command ceremony May 30, 2018, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Safranek assumed command of the wing from Col. Ethan Griffin, outgoing 436th AW commander, during the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zoe Wockenfuss)

Col. Joel Safranek, 436th Airlift Wing commander, speaks during the wing change of command ceremony May 30, 2018, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Safranek assumed command of the wing from Col. Ethan Griffin, outgoing 436th AW commander, during the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zoe Wockenfuss)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- As the new commander, I am sure some of you may have been curious of my background and read through my bio. I always wanted to know where the new boss came from and tried to get an idea of his or her experience before they arrived. So as you may have seen, I’ve had a quite diverse and joint career. I spent a year with the U.S. Marine Corps, two years at U.S. Northern Command, I deployed to Qatar at AFCENT’s Combined Air Operations Center, I served as a commander and deputy commander for two different joint task force exercises, and, most recently, I served as the vice wing commander of a wing hosting 20 geographically separated units across numerous Marine and Army installations.

While I believe those experiences were extremely valuable, you might be surprised to hear that I believe that working in a joint environment is no different than working in the Air Force environment.
Being “joint” is not an assignment or a tasking, it is simply a willful mindset in which you are willing to listen and help your teammates solve the issue at hand, regardless of their branch of service. At the end of the day, getting the job done is not unique to a specific service, we are united in our drive to succeed. In the same manner as us, our brothers and sisters in arms are dealing with limited resources and overwhelming demands.

Often times the Air Force, and more specifically Dover Air Force Base is tasked to support Army, Navy and the Marine Corps, whose members just want our support in completing their mission. Unfortunately, due to factors like different acronyms, terms, processes and culture, communication can appear to be a monumental challenge. In actuality, it is very simple … you need only to listen and make a conscious effort to understand the issue and ask yourself, “how can my skills or capabilities help this team succeed?” You do not need to perfect their lingo, processes or culture. You just need to give it your time and attention. In most cases, you will find our customers know what they want, they just do not know how we can help them make it happen. Moreover, the role, we, the Air Force play in our customer's solution can be simply a mystery to them.

I have found my greatest successes in bridging that gap. Trying to understand and define their problem then being able to clearly explain what the Air Force can or cannot do to help get them to where they want to be. This approach helps establish realistic expectations for our joint teammates and helps us translate their needs to the greater Air Force machine. Simply taking the time to listen and find a way to help solve the issue or task is no different than what Airmen do every day in non-joint jobs here at Dover AFB.

With that, I will leave you with three tools I learned from an Air Mobility Liaison Officer seven years ago: it is our job to EDUCATE, COMMUNICATE and TRANSLATE. In order for all services to operate together effectively, we must EDUCATE ourselves on our service counterparts as we strive to COMMUNICATE in a way in which we all can understand one another … but, when that fails, we must ultimately be able and most importantly, willing, to TRANSLATE between the services.

So I ask you to apply this lesson when you work with other shops, units, or bases; first EDUCATE yourself on your unit’s capabilities, be the expert, but also learn about who you’re working with; be able to COMMUNICATE what you need and how you can assist others; and as necessary, offer to find what’s missing and TRANSLATE between the two units to accomplish the mission together.

Because after all, we are all sworn to accomplish the same mission, and that is to defend this great nation.