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Airmen of all ranks can influence morale

  • Published
  • By By Staff Sgt. Holly Todd
  • 43rd Operations Support Squadron
Recently, a senior non-commisioned officer asked me and two of my fellow noncommisioned officers this question: What is morale? 

I instantly began to try and conjure up a textbook definition of what morale was. After eight years in the military, surely I could come up with an intelligent and inspiring response to this obviously simple question. I could possibly even impress the others in the room with an eloquent reply. The words that came out of my mouth, however, were stuttered and sounded something like this: people enjoy coming to together well.
My response astonished me and brought me to the conclusion that I had absolutely no idea what morale truly was. 

If you do not know what something is, how can you bring it to your unit? 

With this thought in mind, I did some research on the subject. 

Units with positive or good morale have individuals that consciously decide to be loyal and dedicated, their dedication is focused on accomplishing the mission or task, and the accomplishment of this task or mission unifies the group. 

Over the past two years, I have witnessed a significant increase of morale in my unit. Two years ago, many of our personnel didn't know the person sitting next to them at commander's call or PT. Because the flights within my squadron were scattered throughout different locations on the base, few of us actually interacted with anyone outside of their flight or section. 

When squadron functions took place, personnel huddled in their own little shop "cliques" and few dared to interact or mingle with others. This lack of unity was also evident wing-wide. During wing promotion ceremonies and other base events, our presence was insignificant and hardly noticeable. 

According to the definition of morale we were lacking and although the day-to-day mission was getting accomplished, overall, the group was not united or unified.
In a discussion with my unit commander, Lt. Col. David Knight, I asked several questions regarding morale and gained insight into the actions he took to foster positive morale when he took command. He said he immediately noticed that the squadron had "pockets of excellence" everywhere, but the pieces (flights/sections) were spread out.
During a commander's call, he asked us "Who knows the person sitting next to you?" 

Many of us did not. He started introducing personnel during squadron functions, made sure we knew our squadron chain of command, and even had senior NCO's make frequent visits to different sections within the squadron. Another major step he took was purchasing the infamous "Panthermobile." He described the Panthermobile as a "symbol" that took the squadron from being invisible to highly visible. The Panthermobile gave the squadron a way to express unit pride and contributed in unifying our group as a whole. 

I asked how I, as a first line supervisor, could promote positive morale within the unit. He explained that supervisors have to have a genuine concern for people (troops will know whether your concern is genuine), they need to be experts at what they are doing and that they have seek out opportunities to improve morale. He also stressed that although a commander may promote good morale, this effort will fail unless the first line supervisors are promoting it as well. 

Can an Airman that has no supervisory responsibility contribute to positive morale within his or her unit? I am told that personnel at all levels play a part. Airmen can contribute to good morale by keeping an open mind and getting involved in things that are outside his or her section. 

With all the different events and organizations squadron and wing-wide, Airmen have unlimited opportunity to venture outside their flight and interact with others. 

When all is said and done, this is the question that really matters. Why do we care about having good morale? Why put in the effort? What do we gain from it? Why take the time? I asked whether his focus on good morale was solely to make the mission run smoother. He stressed an emphasis on taking care of people, making them feel part of a team, giving them opportunities to lead, excel, and reach their full potential. By doing these things, by fostering positive morale, the mission naturally runs smoother. 

At this point, I comprehend the true definition of morale and the three key elements of morale that apply to a military unit; Airmen decide to be dedicated, their dedication is focused on a common mission, and accomplishment of this mission unifies the group. I also understand that Airmen at all levels can positively impact the morale of their unit and the ways in which they can do so. 

Most importantly, I see the importance of promoting positive morale and feel compelled to pass this information on. Now that I think about it, maybe this is why the senior NCO asked me the question in the first place.