Building a community for unit success: Lesson from the Arctic

Maj. Uri Mandelbaum, Commander, Detachment 1, 23rd Space Operations Squadron

Maj. Uri Mandelbaum, Commander, Detachment 1, 23rd Space Operations Squadron


A strong wingman culture is critical for unit success.  When Airmen are looking out for each other, they can prevent mistakes, find better ways to accomplish the mission and help a fellow Airman when times are difficult. 

Of course, a strong wingman culture doesn’t develop on its own.  It is built on a foundation of community, where Airmen have ties to one another beyond their basic roles in the unit.  At Thule Air Base, Greenland,  the community is especially important to help Airmen get through the four months with no direct sunlight.  Building a community from the wide range of diverse Airmen can be difficult, but everyone can help. 

Here are some lessons from Thule which can apply anywhere in the Air Force.

The first way to start building community in a unit is through a high quality sponsor program.  A good sponsor program can make the difference between a new Airman showing up to the unit unannounced, versus having a desk ready and training planned on their first day.  If you have a chance to be a sponsor, take the extra steps you need to be the sponsor you would have wanted yourself. Get in touch with the new Airman before they arrive, be ready to explain the unit and their role in it and help get them settled by walking with them to accomplish their in-processing checklist.  At Thule, sponsors explain the special preparations Airmen will need before they arrive, what outdoor winter gear needs to be purchased what gear is issued and how to access the dormitory internet.  A good first impression helps the new Airmen who join the unit build community and wingman culture.

Another important way to build community is by having regular ties between unit members outside of work.  Everyone has different interests, so it can be hard to find ways to connect.  That is where the power of clubs can help.  If you have a strong interest you want to share, you can start or join a club for it.  Clubs let Airmen connect based on what they enjoy instead of just where they work.  For example, hiking, yoga, board games and language groups are all ways Thule members can get to know each other outside the office.  The important part is to commit a regular amount of time to your club.  Attending regularly will show you’re reliable and help build connections to the Airmen who share your interests.  These connections will help build the community the unit needs.

Finally, celebrate the personal accomplishments of the Airmen around you.  Everyone has personal goals which mean a lot to them.  Celebrating the achievement of other people’s goals shows you care about their growth as a person and they mean more to you than their role in the unit.  Taking a few minutes out of the day to share the progress Airmen have made in their goals will also make other Airmen more willing to open up about their personal goals.  It could even help build connections between Airmen who have similar goals, which helps build the overall community of the unit.

Building a community can seem like a daunting task, but it is crucial for wingman culture to thrive.  Fortunately, everyone in a unit can help build community in some simple ways.  Sponsorship, clubs and celebrating achievements are just a few ideas that can help strengthen a unit.  Hopefully, you will be able to use these Arctic ideas in your own unit, and build a community to give you wingmen for a lifetime.