COMMENTARY: A Pandemic, Groundhog Day, and our Core Values - Lessons Learned

  • Published
  • By Col. Gregory “GM” Kuzma
  • Headquarters United States Indo-Pacific Command

Col. Kuzma is the Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the Future Plans Director in the Strategic Plans Directorate at Headquarters United States Indo-Pacific Command and is a recent graduate of the Joint & Combined Warfare School-Hybrid. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

These days may seem like the movie Groundhog Day where we are faced with the seemingly never-ending daily challenges and restrictions caused by a global pandemic. In the 1993 comedy, weatherman Phil Conners (played by Bill Murray) wakes up to relive the same day over and over. At first, he is frustrated and upset with his situation that prevents him from moving forward. However, through self-reflection, embracing the world around him, and adjusting his priorities, he discovers how to overcome his Groundhog Day by adapting his mindset.

Even though this movie pokes fun at a fictional scenario, it has lessons from which we can all learn. In a time of crisis, it is especially important to remember that we have the power to decide how we respond to each challenge. Global supply chain interruptions, canceled military missions, and delayed training are just a few mission readiness challenges for the Air Force. While social distancing policies have presented challenges, this crisis has also created opportunities for innovation and process improvement.

So, what lessons can we learn?

As my father told me after his Air Force service in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam: “Stay positive and focus on what you can control.”

Looking at COVID-19 through a strategic planner’s lens, we should ask the following questions to exploit opportunities:

  1. How do we continue to execute our mission during this crisis? Leverage your unit’s agility by energizing its people and reinventing its architecture to quickly adapt and overcome the adversity impacting your mission. At units across the Air Force, teleworking has become a way for many Airmen to overcome restrictions by utilizing Desktop Anywhere, Virtual Private Network, as well as commercial solutions such as CVR (Microsoft Teams), Zoom Government, and WebEx. Col. Heather McCue, at HQ AFRC, reports that the Force Generation Cell has embraced these platforms to not only sustain overseas deployments for our combatant commanders, but also to stay connected and engaged with our Reserve Airmen. Using these tools has also helped the Air Force prepare for a significant leadership transition working with Congress on the historic confirmation of General CQ Brown, the 22nd United States Air Force Chief of Staff. 
  1. What opportunities does this crisis create to allow us to better plan and execute our missions more effectively and efficiently? Rather than view this situation as a short-term disruption with the desire to return to the past, let us explore ways to use the crisis to innovate and implement long overdue changes. At Creech Air Force Base, Capt. Clare from the732nd Operations Support Squadron created Archer University for intel analysts to train and work from home. From an annual in-person unclassified brief in a secure vault, it has grown into an immersive online course that involves weekly assignments, group interaction, and progress checks for 150 Airmen to sharpen their skills.
  1. How do we learn from this situation to better position ourselves to rapidly respond to future crises? The COVID-19 crisis may extend for the foreseeable future, giving us an opportunity to reimagine how we do business in the long-term. Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, recently established a task force to explore ways to bolster resilience of key Air Force industry partners. Their task is to find ways to expedite weapon system acquisition and overcome potential supplier delays impacted by the global pandemic.  

We can also find ways to leverage this crisis to be stronger than ever before by remembering our Air Force Core Values.

In keeping Integrity First, we should be honest with ourselves, our wingmen, and our leadership about realistic expectations of what we can and cannot accomplish in this “degraded operating environment.” Excellence in All We Do does not only mean to strive to perform our best, but to be innovative in our thinking and actions. Service before Self is affirmed in the commitment we made to support and defend our Constitution, even when faced with a work environment that is less than ideal.

Like Phil Conners learned through his Groundhog Day experience, we may find that by stepping back and looking at the big picture, we have a chance to sow the seeds of opportunity to create a new reality for tomorrow that could be even better than today.