Powerful alone, unstoppable together

by Veronica Davison
Cyberspace Operations Directorate 
November 8, 2021

Commanders and joint directors from the Cyberspace Operations Directorate had the long-awaited opportunity to convene in-person for a senior professional development leadership sync with Senior Executive Joseph Wassel Oct. 25. Wassel named the leadership sync Patriot Thunder Eagle, which focused on agency priorities, as well as maximizing collaboration across Cyberspace Ops and DISA. Patriot Thunder Eagle also provided the directorate’s leadership the opportunity to discuss enhancing headquarters, field and combatant command collaboration, with Wassel asking his team to embrace a “field first” approach to their work, ensuring consistent engagement of field personnel in Cyberspace Ops and agency activities.

In 2019, several months into his tenure at DISA, Wassel launched the Patriot Leadership and Team Building Series to advance leadership development and intra- and inter-organizational collaboration. Wassel is a fervent believer that knee-to-knee meetings are critical to building a team that is “powerful by themselves, but unstoppable together.” This is part of his concept of standing alone together. According to Wassel, “standing alone together means each member of my organization knows the mission of his or her area of responsibility with a clear understanding of how it enables the DISA mission and the missions of our partners and customers.” Cyberspace Ops is the only DISA organization that has personnel working 24 hours a day, seven days a week across the globe and Wassel is foot stomping the need for heightened organization-wide collaboration to achieve the information dominance DISA needs to support the warfighter and mission partners, while staying ahead of the adversary.

U.S. Air Force Col. Angela Freeman, commander of DISA’s Joint Staff Support Center, joined the agency in July 2021 and until Patriot Thunder Eagle, only interacted with her counterparts virtually. “I’ve had many TEAMS events, we do the bi-weekly cyber roundtables, we exchange emails, we talk on the phone as needed, but being able to come together to start building the relationships outside of when I need something or when we need to talk and to be able to have those open and honest conversations was important. That was key to have us all in that room and having our leadership there was important to show that they are bought into this as well.”

Cyberspace Ops is organized by joint (i.e., multiservice) codes. Kevin McKinney is the J8 or director of operations, integration and resources. Like Col. Freeman, he sees the benefit of the internal synchronization between the headquarters joint directors and field commanders. “You can’t replicate being in person, the sidebar conversations, and really getting to know someone outside of the work environment. Virtually helps out tremendously, you can read body language, but you miss those opportunities to get to know someone outside of work, being able to connect before content,” said McKinney. “Thunder Eagle helped me identify some new opportunities to support the field more directly, in support of Mr. Wassel's "Field First" paradigm."

Operations Center Director Don Means attended the meeting and underscored the importance of program planning and change management. Means is a former directorate executive and knows firsthand the high caliber of Ops personnel and the center’s potential. “the challenges are coming and when they do, I want us to be ready … I absolutely don’t want to be satisfied with the status quo and I need your help to change it.” This aligns with Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner’s call for personnel to strive to be better tomorrow than they are today. Means has asked Ops leadership across the center to create a supportive environment that fosters professional development and to secure the resources needed for maximum job performance.

In adherence with Department of Defense guidance, all attendees wore masks indoors and were fully vaccinated prior to the Arlington National Cemetery gathering. Wassel thinks carefully about the meeting locations for the Patriot Series, as each venue he selects reinforces a message related to DISA priorities. In this location, aside from formal discussions, attendees toured the onsite exhibits and watched the changing of the guard. Wassel asked the team to take note of the attention to detail each soldier from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment exhibited during the changing of the guard. “We need to put that same kind of attention to detail and precision in our actions. We are here to remind us that there is a pursuit of excellence and they achieve it here.”

Col. Freeman explained the direct linkage between the meeting location and successful execution of DISA’s mission. “What we do each and every day with precision matters because it’s supporting a warfighter. So whether that means providing a mobile device in somebody’s hand who’s going to make a decision, that’s affecting people down range, that’s protecting lives. It’s that precision that we have to be engaged in, making decisions quickly at the point of need, which really emphasizes the information dominance and the importance of the information environment.” For Col. Freeman, Patriot Thunder Eagle “took what we do day-to-day and put us in ‘this is why it’s important.’”

Some attendees who walked through the cemetery knew or served with warfighters who were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, which currently conducts 130 to 160 funeral services per week. It was a sobering reminder of the importance of delivering capabilities at the speed of need to achieve the velocity of action to win.

The Patriot Series will continue in 2022 with Patriot Eagle (field commanders) and Patriot Thunder (joint directors) in winter 2022 and Patriot Shotgun (field deputies) in summer 2022. 


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