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Leadership at a Geographically Separated Unit

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Air Force bases are designed to be self-contained communities with everything Airmen need to live and raise their families. Especially overseas, base amenities such as shopping centers, libraries, chapels, education centers, automotive centers and vet clinics help improve the quality of life for Airmen.


Imagine a life where such amenities are several hundred miles away. This is the reality for more than 128 active-duty personnel and their families from the 731st Munitions Squadron, located at Camp Darby, Italy, who are geographically separated from their parent unit at Aviano Air Base, Italy.  


 “Some of the most routine things are going to be more challenging to accomplish when your parent Group or Wing and all the support and resources are hours, or even another country away,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jacob Elliott, first sergeant from the 731st MUNS at Camp Darby.


This often creates more challenges for leadership in a GSU because they are often completing tasks they would not normally do.


“We’re used to having a Civil Engineering Squadron to manage the dorms, or a Force Support Squadron to handle morale, welfare and recreation and so forth,” said Elliott. “At a GSU, guess who’s likely doing all that? You!”  


Additionally, managing expectations is very important as a leader in a GSU.


“When I in-process these Airmen I’m honest with them about what we do and don’t have, but with a deliberate effort to emphasize positives and reassure them that what’s inside our small fence line is not all the Air Force has to offer,” said Elliott.


As a leader, it is essential that we deliberately care for and support one another. 


“The goal is to get everyone to realize they’re not alone or an individual, they’re a part of this squadron family and the expectation is they take an active role in that,” said Elliott.


For GSUs, community plays an even larger role in everyday life. With fewer Airmen, camaraderie becomes one of the unit’s most important resources.


“Each month we do a ‘First Friday’ gathering and we try and sprinkle the calendar with team building events and sports and family days,” said Elliott.


Leaders like Elliott make it a priority to care for Airmen.


“Take care of the Airmen who take care of the mission, the rest should fall into place naturally,” said Elliott. “Whatever I can do to help Airmen personally or professionally that allows them to focus on the mission, means our assets are always ready and reliable to project power across multiple combatant commands and maintain the Air Force’s lethality when and where [it’s] needed.”


No matter the location Elliott believes there are certain keys to leadership.


“I’ll give you a pair because they can’t be separated:  You have to be present and relevant,” said Elliott. “If you are (or could be) relevant but you never leave your office, what good is the knowledge or experience you hold?  If you’re always present but you’re not contributing anything, what good are you by just being around?  Simple in thought, but difficult to execute or balance.”