Though it is easiest to stick to your own unit and not branch out to meet people in other sections; I learned from this deployment how fulfilling it is to truly get to know others. We happened to be building up a bare base and the environment helped us bond as a team and military family. Though we often have our familiar tribe, a group of people like us, safe and comfortable; I recommend expanding beyond and making connections with those who are not in your unit. It broadens your perspective and is simply fun.
We had postage stamp living accommodations, walked most everywhere. Whether it was walking from the trailers/tents, to the nearest porta-potty, or to the gym; walking enabled more opportunities to interact. It allowed us a break away to stop and smell the…dust in the air. With the small town feel most of us knew each other; it was always nice to walk by a small group and join the conversation. I was able to hear the countdown of days left, learn about loved ones back home, and enjoy a funny story about workplace challenges. It reminded me how important it is to pause in our days to have these short, but meaningful conversations; asking somebody, “How are you?” and really listening to the answer. It is easy to get caught up in our immediate workspace, but when we are forced, or force ourselves to step away to chat; we gain a broader and more unique network.
When we are willing to reach across barriers and take the time to get to know someone who is not “like us,” we gain more than staying in a bubble. Expanding our network broadens mentorship opportunities; finding mentors in a different career field expands your skill set. They may have a specific quality you admire and would like to increase in yourself, get to know them and grow. I had the opportunity to watch and learn from a maintenance officer how highly effective a calm and observant leadership style can be (calm is not exactly my middle name…) and I appreciated his patience and time. A pilot even taught me how to spin a pen on my hand (not a career move, but I ALWAYS wanted to learn how to do that!).
It is natural to assume others might not want to get to know you; however, that assumption is often not correct. Yet for those in my field of law enforcement, base personnel tend to not want to talk to us or are cautious in interactions. I went out of my way to smile and make myself more approachable; it was necessary for my job to be available when needed. Yet I knew for me personally, my unit was so small, I needed interaction with others to not feel isolated. I got to know many incredible young airmen and soldiers (some 20 years old!) and in these relationships, I made myself vulnerable to them by being the ‘old’ talkative major. They kindly tolerated, listened to and shared with me. They inspired and motivated me daily; their enthusiasm for the mission and job was contagious. I was honored with the privilege of re-enlisting two members willing to dedicate more of their time and service to the AF. I would not have had the opportunity had I not tried to be a role model and reached out to them first.
Most everyone agreed this deployment was unique, the circumstances and leadership, created a positive and productive environment which promoted us all to reach beyond our unit and service. We were all connected over the mission and we left amazed at what we created; blown away at all the changes from beginning to end. Yet, it will always be the personal connections made along the way that will last long after the base we built is closed again.