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Lessons from the lunch train

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brad Spears
  • 458th Airlift Squadron commander
This is the time of year when we all attend farewell events as many of our teammates move on in their Air Force adventure. During these events we take time to honor their accomplishments and do our best to say goodbye. But what do the people leaving our organizations say?

In the 458th Airlift Squadron, those leaving tend to say that the best part of their assignment to Scott Air Force Base was the people and more specifically, the camaraderie with their fellow Airmen in the squadron.

According to Michael Burchell and Jenifer Robin, authors of "The Great Workplace" camaraderie in any organization are made up of three parts: intimacy, hospitality, and community.

In their model, intimacy includes celebrating special events and team accomplishments, helping people in times of need, and encouraging people to be themselves while respecting the individuality of others. This is evident "when people at work care about one another."

They explain that hospitality includes ensuring that new members to the team are properly welcomed and that time, take each day to enjoy coworkers.

Finally, the authors say that a great workplace has a community where everyone in the organization feels a "broader sense of team and everyone is working together to create a great product or provide a great service."

As much as I would like to explain that a commander initiative leant itself to the aforementioned camaraderie in the 458th, it is actually a function of our squadron culture. In particular I can point to an event that occurs almost on a daily basis, something that our great folks came up with all on their own, the lunch train.

The lunch train is an informal network that permeates the entire organization for the purpose of gathering for lunch. The participants may change based on operational tempo and individual availability. The lunch train chugs along stopping at a different locale each day. The people who hop on board gain trust and friendship among their peers. Those new to the squadron learn the culture in an informal setting, while seasoned riders share stories and experiences. Through the course of repeated, informal interactions, they get to know each other. The lunch train builds intimacy, hospitality, and community. Passengers on the lunch train learn about the Air Force, marriage, parenting, money matters, and life. The lunch train rallies when a member is in need and celebrates whenever they can. It is no accident that our squadron farewell ritual involves one last ride on the train. It contributes to the camaraderie that is engrained in our squadron.

So, what does your lunch train look like? It may look a lot different than ours. In your organization, the lunch train might be an intramural sports team, dinner club, or Fantasy Football League. No matter the impetus, when you gather together and get to know each other you build camaraderie, you strengthen your organization, and you strengthen our force. The impact of such connectedness on our young Airmen ultimately extends the legacy of esprit de corps in our service. Best of all, it's something that anyone in an organization can generate.