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The Golden Contributions to the Mission

  • Published
  • By Capt. Cory Seaton
  • 20th Air Force

The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s personal opinions and not a reflection or an endorsement by the United States Air Force.

The sentiment “OG is the mission” is often heard in many Air Force Specialty Codes. The operations group, whether at a flying or missile wing, is stereotypically seen as THE mission that matters most. All the missions that support and enable the OG to do their job are often seen as “only” support. This sentiment, although often said without any negative connotations in mind, can be harmful and alienate Airmen from feeling like they’re a big, integral part of the mission.

Full disclosure, this commentary leans very heavily on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle described in his book, “Start With Why.” The Golden Circle is the model that Sinek uses to explain how legendary leaders were able to inspire, instead of manipulate, in order to motivate people. He states that the leaders that start with explaining the WHY they do what they do, inspire more than leaders who start with explaining WHAT they do (Sinek, 2009).

Think of the Golden Circle as a bullseye, with three rings. WHY is recognized as the bullseye, with HOW and WHAT following in the second and third circle respectively. Traditionally, leaders think, act, and communicate with an outside-in construct; they explain what they do, how they do it, and the why they do it. In his book, Sinek goes on to explain that this is because it’s easier to explain the tangible WHAT upfront, than it is to explain the sometimes fuzzy WHY. He has connected that the leaders who inspire flip this paradigm on its head and communicate with an inward out style start with explaining the WHY they do what they do, HOW they plan to do it, and WHAT exactly they are doing.

It may be that as the Air Force has pushed for group and squadron identity, the unforeseen cost has been that many have lost their WHY. While award ceremonies are full of statements meant to boost and showcase morale, they show an underlying benign belief that one group or squadron is more important than others. Whether that sentiment starts with “if you ain’t ammo, then…” or that “the OG is the mission,” the underlying sentiments are there. Those who spout those lines only identify with the WHAT behind their mission objectives, not the WHY. For example, the OG is the face of WHAT we do as a macro organization. However, to say that the OG is the mission is an antiquated approach to an evolving mission.   

While thinking of my own leadership philosophy as a missile combat officer and taking a deep dive in to the Golden Circle, I have come to the conclusion that each group on base represents a different ring within the circle.

The OG is WHAT we do, the Maintenance Group and Security Forces Group are HOW we do it, and the Mission Support Group and the Medical Group are the closest to the WHY we do it. I believe the WHY we get up every morning and lace up our boots is to protect every American and their way of life, inspire confidence in our allies across the globe and to deter aggression that is detrimental to our populace. PEOPLE are THE mission; everything we do in the various Air Force mission sets is designed to accomplish strategic and tactical objectives for that mission.

Saying that the OG is the mission screams of a lost sense of WHY we do this macro mission. This statement is a result of a thought process that permeates around the AF, not just the missile community, but the aircraft community as well. However, the OGs are not alone in this lost sense of WHY, many groups have focused so heavily on WHAT they do, that they have distanced themselves from understanding the other groups’ contributions to the mission and its objectives.

From an ICBM perspective, the WHAT the OG does is provide 24/7/365 nuclear deterrence and on order, conduct global strike. That is what they start with when people ask them what their mission is. While that may answer the question, that does not answer the underlying question. The next question is HOW do we do it? The deterrence is provided by sending operation crews to the Launch Control Centers for a specific period of time. These two questions are easy to answer. But WHY do we continue to provide this deterrence/strike? With the Cold War over, WHY do we still need this mission?

To say the OG is the mission completely negates and undermines the important work that the MXG and the SFG do to support the mission. The MXG and the SFG represent the macro HOW the mission gets done. Without the maintenance, the missiles would be unable to stay mission ready. The MXG keeps the missiles at such a high readiness due to the hard work the maintainers do every single day. Yet, this still does not explain WHY all the missile field personnel, spread throughout the OG, MXG, and SFG,  perform their duties miles and hours from their families every day; more to follow on that.

The SFG maintains physical security of our nuclear assets. They are the ultimate backstop that provides nuclear security for America’s nuclear deterrence. This enables the American public to have high confidence and live the lives as they are accustomed to. This mission objective is accomplished by thousands of Airmen spread across the three missile wings that encompass roughly 35 thousand square miles.

To say the OG is the mission complicates the WHY we do what we do. The WHY we do this mission is simple and uncomplicated and is force wide, yet is not stated often enough. The WHY can be stated as follows: we do this mission to protect the American PEOPLE and the American way of life. PEOPLE are the mission, PEOPLE are the WHY we do what we do.

There are two groups on base that are more closely linked to this WHY, and I do not think they truly realize it and are vastly underappreciated. The Mission Support Group and the Medical Group are the two that are more synonymously linked to the WHY, albeit in a micro sense.

The MSG carries the WHY throughout every one of its squadrons. The Force Support Squadron supplies food for every other group via the dining facilities and the missile alert facilities. FSS provides living quarters for those that are required, or choose, to live on base; whether that be in the dormitories or privatized housing. The fitness center is staffed and supplied by FSS personnel and lines of accounting. Many OG personnel would not be able to pass the AF mandated fitness tests without the services the fitness center provides. Logistical Readiness Squadron (LRS) not only provides government vehicles for PEOPLE to drive on the flight line and in the missile field, but also tracks the non-mission capable and accepts deliveries of maintenance supplies for the MXG. Civil Engineering Squadron maintains the infrastructure that PEOPLE rely on and live in. Without them our facilities would be in constant need of repair and create an unsafe working environment for the PEOPLE. Contracting Squadron establishes, monitors, and oversees our industry partners while they complete specialized work that we ourselves cannot do. Without the work that CONS does, our partners would look for work elsewhere. The Communications Squadron is essential to every aspect of the macro AF mission. Without the work they do the Air Force would come to a screeching halt. Email would stop working and phones would be inoperative.

In that same vein, the MDG is also PEOPLE focused, and customer service based. Absolutely no one would be combat ready without the services the MDG provides. No one would be inoculated against the multitude of viruses that threaten to impact the mission. The MDG ensures the health of the PEOPLE via the doctors, nurses, and technicians there. The clinic provides a pharmacy that keeps PEOPLE healthy with prescription medicine. The dental clinic ensures that PEOPLE are able to eat the food that FSS provides without pain.

PEOPLE are the WHY we do this mission. This mission is not one group; it is all the groups working in a perfectly symbiotic environment. Without the WHY, the WHAT and HOW are irrelevant.

We have truly lost our way as a macro organization if we think that one group is “The Mission.” The true mission is WHY we do what we do. Protecting the American PEOPLE and the American way of life is the WHY. WHAT we do is provide credible nuclear deterrence to defend our nation against our adversaries. HOW we do it is through manning LCCs 24/7/365 and ensuring that the missiles are perfectly maintained and secured effectively to provide safe, secure, and reliable launches when ordered. The WHAT and HOW are what United States Strategic Command, Air Force Global Strike Command, 20th Air Force, and the missile wings always say when asked about the mission. However, they rarely ever start with WHY we are here providing a nuclear deterrence blanket. By performing our mission, we are protecting the American PEOPLE and our way of life from all adversaries - past, present, and future. If we start with WHY we do this mission, we get to the foundation, WHY we need to modernize and WHY we need this mission set.

Capt. Cory Seaton is the Chief of Future Operations and Programs at Twentieth Air Force located at Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyoming. He currently oversees the Strategic Integrated Calendar and the Long Range Plan for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles as well as the development and deployment of both the second iteration of the Incremental Cryptography Upgrade program and the Minuteman III Launch Command Center Block Upgrade program. Additionally, he is one of the chief stakeholder interfaces between Global Strike Command and Twentieth Air Force for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program.

Works Cited

Seaton, C. (2021, April 29). Concept Board. Retrieved from conceptboard.com: https://app.conceptboard.com/board/u989-xo77-66hy-u0mf-deei

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, New York: Penguin Group Inc.