Cyberspace Operations Directorate takes team building to new heights – literally

To achieve its mission, DISA has to prioritize close collaboration and information sharing at headquarters, field commands and field offices.

Leaders throughout the agency employ a variety of strategies to help the workforce operate as a team, and some of those leaders get very creative.

The agency’s Cyberspace Operations Directorate Executive, Joseph Wassel, is never at a loss when it comes to creative thinking, and the Patriot Leadership and Team Building Training Series he launched this year is a testament to that.

Wassel’s workforce is home to 2,600 people located in eight countries and 13 U.S. states. He is facing a challenge familiar to many across the agency: the tyranny of distance. The leadership series began in summer 2019 with Patriot Thunder and was held at one of DISA’s alternate locations. Wassel took what could have been a run-of-the-mill leadership training and launched a dynamic professional development and leadership team building training designed for his headquarters-based staff. Wassel developed the series in response to DISA Director and JFHQ-DODIN Commander Navy Vice Adm. Nancy A. Norton’s call to build an organization of trust, continuous improvement and a customer-centered approach to the work. The evolving series now includes three additional trainings targeting his global team: chiefs – Patriot Phoenix; deputies – Patriot Shotgun; and field commanders – Patriot Eagle.

“Our customer just happens to be the best customer in the world and a demanding customer, rightly so, and it’s the warfighter and our senior leaders who give the orders to the warfighter,” Wassel said.

Two weeks ago, Wassel held the first Patriot Eagle training at the United States Strategic Command Headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Quotations from military and civilian thought leaders line the walls in STRATCOM’s new Air Force Gen. Curtis E. LeMay Command and Control Facility, referred to as C2F. One quote attributed to football legend Vince Lombardi underscores why Wassel established the Patriot series, “Individual commitment to a team effort – that’s what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” If you ask Wassel, that is what will make the Cyberspace Operations Directorate work.

“If you have an eagle on your collar or uniform, Patriot Eagle is for you,” Wassel said during a pre-brief with field commanders held prior to the training.

A key component of Patriot Eagle is team building at the most senior level of the directorate. This is Wassel’s attempt to build trust and synchronization among his commanders.

U.S. Marine Col. Matthew Simmons, commander of DISA Pacific Command noted a key difference between Patriot Eagle and other trainings he’s attended.

“The fact that we were all offsite together for a team building opportunity really made a difference,” he said. “We were exposed to a mission set that some of us hadn’t been exposed to before and that’s really interesting – to see something new, to learn something new together. At DISA we talk about the ‘Speed of Trust’ and this was a tremendous opportunity to establish that trust between all of the field office commanders and Mr. Wassel, with an opportunity to be together for a few days offsite and to really talk strategically about what we want to accomplish together.”

Being the global agency that it is, DISA is effective at accomplishing its missions despite working across multiple states, countries and time zones. However, due to the challenges of geographical separation, field commanders appreciate the rare opportunity for face-to-face interaction.

“I think just the opportunity to be there together, to have dinner together, to sit across the table – three feet from somebody – where you’re usually on the other side of a screen 6,000 miles away or 3,000 miles away. For me, it really made a big difference to actually physically be there in the room with someone,” Simmons said.

Wassel and the headquarters’ team worked hard to make sure the training was a success and achieved the intended objective.

According to Simmons, the training achieved its objective.

“I just know it took a lot of effort to do this, and Mr. Wassel had the vision to see what we were going to get out of that, even if maybe all of us didn’t recognize that beforehand, we certainly do after the event.”

The training began with a command brief that offered a historical overview of STRATCOM, from its origins and how the combatant command has changed over time to the vital role it plays today in deterring strategic attacks against the U.S. and its allies. Attendees also toured the impressive 916,000-square-foot facility, complete with 50 conference rooms and a 300-person capacity auditorium that has bleachers and four-star-level conferencing capabilities. C2F is a weapons system with 650 miles of information technology cable that can stretch from Omaha to Dallas. It was designed to meet today’s needs and accommodate the unforeseen needs of future. Attendees also walked through parts of the building that enable STRATCOM to create a globally integrated picture for globally integrated operations.

“I respect your mission and the work you do,” Wassel told the commanders as they prepared for the final part of their day at C2F – a whiteboard session where field commanders identified their respective goals. Wassel continued, “DISA is a quiet enabler helping people do their mission. We want to give confidence to the warfighter, to the combatant command and to the president. When leaders make decisions, they need the right information at the right time to make the right decision.”

The high point of the training was a flight aboard National Airborne Operations Center E-4B aircraft. The NAOC is an extension of the nuclear executive support complex for decision making and information sharing. Wassel is no stranger to the aircraft. He knows all the ins and outs from his frequent travels with former U.S. Secretaries of Defense William Cohen, Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, when he served as the assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Communications and deputy chief information officer for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. During the flight, the team had the opportunity to observe a NAOC mission in real time, while Wassel highlighted DISA-enabled capabilities and helped the team see themselves in a NAOC mission and think about new solutions and better techniques, tactics and procedures.

Joining Wassel and the commanders at the training were William Brazis, general counsel and Dave Bennett, Operations Center director. Both DISA’s senior leaders are highly supportive of Wassel’s training series and understand the benefits to the commanders and the mission.

“We have to understand how to leverage technology in the most effective and efficient means possible to eliminate the distance and the virtual nature of how we have to work together to ensure we’re meeting the warfighter’s needs,” Bennett said. “That’s why these meetings are so important. They help us come together to share experiences, share understanding and share awareness to ensure collectively we’re all pulling together in the right way.”

According to Bennett, due to the global nature of DISA’s work, “You’ve got to be able to interact virtually and still be able to do it at the speed of need by leveraging the technology available. But if everything is virtual, you don’t get a full grasp of the mission space like you do when you are interacting with someone face-to-face.”

Patriot Shotgun is scheduled for spring 2020. The directorate’s deputies will then have the opportunity their commanders and headquarters-based colleagues have had for leadership development team building.

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