Exercise provides lesson in communication, leadership

  • Published
  • By Col. Bryan L. Runion
  • 446th Mission Support Group Commander

I recently served as the deployed wing commander for Exercise Patriot Warrior 2015 at Fort McCoy, Wis. This is the Air Force Reserve Command's largest field exercise and is part of the Army's Global Medic exercise. It is held at a true bare-base, built from the ground up by the exercise participants, supporting patient movement and aeromedical evacuation flight operations.

This was a new experience for me. Prior to Patriot Warrior, my idea of a bare-base deployment was no cable TV. However, this was a true bare-base where we lived in tents, ate MREs, the whole nine yards. We had no showers, laundry, or field kitchen facilities until we set them up. To top it off, I had no experience in the aeromedical mission.

You know how you get warned not to volunteer? Well, I volunteered to be the mission support group commander for the exercise. I reported in and found out that I was now the deployed wing commander.

I was now responsible for 500 Army, Air Force, civilian, British and Canadian exercise participants doing a mission I knew little about. As a leader, I found out the troops will surprise you with innovation and teamwork.

All I had to do was communicate and be visible. Little did I know that I would channel Gen. George S. Patton, as those were his great leadership lessons.

General Patton once said, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." I saw that first-hand at Patriot Warrior when some of our equipment did not arrive on time.
Among the items that were delayed were our shower units. It was hot in Wisconsin, and showers are nice things to have once the five-day deodorant pad wears out.

With the arrival of our showers nowhere in sight, one of our officers, who was from a nearby Air Force Reserve unit, displayed great ingenuity. He got a shower unit shipped to us. It was an older model with the green tarp and no floor.

Not to be deterred, our civil engineers, used a 463L aircraft cargo pallets as a makeshift floor. They also built a soakage pit for the shower's "gray water" to drain into.

We were now in business.

I was also pleased, as a leader, to see a diverse group of people work as a team.

General Patton said, "An Army is a team; lives, sleeps, eats, fights as a team." At our Forward Operating Base, we had Soldiers, Airmen, British and Canadian forces along with a civilian Advanced Surgical Team from Florida.

I saw great attitudes and teamwork throughout the exercise. The best example was our recovery after a storm dumped six inches of rain on our FOB. After the storm, everyone worked to recover the camp from flooding.

It was Army, Air Force -- everyone -- helping without being told. We got the camp dried out, and were back in business. I saw that same spirit of teamwork during both the camp build-up and tear-down phases.

This is a big change I have seen since my start in the military 36 years ago. We are now a truly joint and diverse team.

I also found that communicating and being visible served me well. We held nightly All Calls providing updates on how the base build-up was progressing. It's where I announced the shower was now operational.

There was a tremendous round of applause. I guess it's the little things that count.

When the exercise ended, I used the All Call to brief incoming bad weather, expected the next morning, necessitating we tear down work tents that night.

Again, to quote General Patton, "do everything you ask of those you command." So I helped as we tore down and palletized tents until midnight. I found that, by being a visible leader, it helped get "buy in" from the troops and the job was done on time.

My take-aways from Patriot Warrior, and Gen. George S. Patton himself, are that the troops will surprise you with their innovation. They will also work as a team.

All you have to do as the leader is communicate, be visible, and don't ask them to do something you wouldn't do yourself. Thanks, General Patton.