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  • Published
  • By Colonel James C. Howe
  • 6th Maintenance Group commander
Greetings Team MacDill Warriors! I am going to continue with my theme from the last commander's commentary on enduring truths of military life, training and other lessons learned that make a successful leader.

I mentioned in my first article that supervisors and members must capitalize on all the training they have had throughout their career in order to groom the next set of Air Force leaders. The Air Force's robust training program along with guidance and mentoring from your current supervisor should provide you with the tools necessary to grow that all important next generation.

I'd like to discuss the next step in leadership skills in this article that primarily focuses on the professional development of our airmen. We all know about the Professional Military Education (PME) institution the Air Force provides its members--a world class program that produces world class leaders! But, what can you as a supervisor focus your troops on to be more militarily effective everyday?? How can you capitalize on all that training and "tools in your tool box" and your airman's "tool box" to get the mission accomplished faster, leaner, with more lethality and precision and velocity??

You've got to make sure those "tools" stay sharp--that's how! Off duty education in your specialty area or related to it is the first big step. The Community College of the Air Force has all those "tools" in their CCAF degree program. The next step is a little talked about program in developing leaders--it used to be called Developing Aerospace Leaders--DAL. It has been absorbed into the much larger program called Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century! That's right, AFSO21.

We've all heard the buzzword, now it's time to find out what this new leadership program really means! It is your latest "tool" to sharpen your combat skills. Most people think it's just an administrative program to cut waste where you see it at the level of empowerment you have--supervisor, commander, MAJCOM staff officer, etc. Really it is a way for you to change the way the entire United States Air Force flies, fights and wins its nation's wars. It is really that "big" a "tool" if used properly. Think about it!

First we must define a "process". Webster defines process as: "A system of operations producing something." Everything we do as an Air Force everyday is some sort of process. An enduring truth outlined by Jeffrey K. Liker in his book The Toyota Way, states that in any given process developed by humans, 95 percent of that process is inherent waste. The culture we must embrace is to see (identify) waste for what it is and get rid it!

If you can cut the waste in your office spaces while doing your day-to-day processes by 50 percent, you can turn that time over to more pressing needs of the Air Force. If everyone embraced this new culture, then the entire Air Force could save thousands of man-hours and may at times save an entire wing's worth of manpower and resources to be reallocated to the fight in some other way.

I have two examples for you. One is an industrial example and the other is an administrative example. Remember, no matter where you work or what your duties are you can cut wasteful processes and increase our combat capability as a result.

My first example is our "Number Two Periodic Inspection Project" for the KC-135 aircraft. It is an age old process that comes with technical order cards that tell you what needs to be inspected, but in true Air Force fashion, it doesn't tell you how to do it. We discovered of the fifteen bases and depot personnel present there were fifteen different way to accomplish the same stack of work cards! It became obvious to all of us that this process needed to be put through the process of process improvement!

We determined that we save the Air Force several thousands of dollars and over a hundred man hours just at this base alone by standardizing the tools, test equipment, manning and workflow used during the inspection. Multiply that out across all KC-135 bases and you can see how the savings can grow exponentially! That's just getting started!

We eventually developed a plan with 49 "immediate actions" called "just do its" to request required technical order changes. Couple that with the 30 related follow-on projects we developed, we will have cut the time in half required to perform the inspection from an average of 10 days to just 5 and a half. That will put twice as many aircraft back in fight and allow those dedicated maintainers to focus on other tasks.

My second example is the U.S. Air Force Inter/Intra Service Support Agreement Program. "Support agreements" as they are commonly known were an administrative nightmare to the logistics planners tasked to manage the program. The average support agreement took over 900 days to coordinate. Some complex agreements were over 400 pages long. The Air Force had provisions for revising current agreements every three years. If you do the math that requirement alone required program managers as soon as an agreement would get done to be re-accomplished (900+ days is about three years).

In addition, most of the support documented in an agreement was routine support where manpower and reimbursements to the host unit didn't even apply. Yet by Air Force Instruction, an agreement was required to be written. A process held over from the 1970's demanded change. I partnered with my counter part at Air Combat Command headquarters and we developed an AFSO21 event to get rid of the waste in this process.

We gathered a team of subject matter experts from across the Air Force at all levels (base, MAJCOM, HQ USAF) and participated for a week in a Rapid Improvement Event at Scott AFB, IL. We had instant buy-in (crucial to expedite change--by deliberately inviting the people we did) and after we mapped out the 900+ day process, we figured out how to cut it down to just 185 days. We also convinced the HQ USAF Office of Primary Responsibility for the Air Force Instruction on Support Agreements that the three year reviews were a waste of time. Bingo! That requirement was cut.

We also identified several other initiatives and follow on actions that resulted in cutting the numbers of support agreement in Air Mobility Command from 600 to 300. Bingo again...we had cut the program workload in half across all bases Air Force wide! Several other great ideas came out of that event, including the inertia to get an online catalog of services a base can offer a receiver unit (formerly known as tenants---known to us as our mission partners at MacDill) available on the internet.

The bottom line is that you can make a difference! You can change the way the United States Air Force flies, fights and wins our nation's wars. You can make a difference as a total Team MacDill player even if you are serving in one of our mission partners' organizations by embracing a culture of change. We must do this...we have no choice. I need you on the process improvement team! Get those "tools" out and start sharpening is the time! Working smarter and not harder must be our credo. Good luck, Godspeed to our fighting men and women on the frontlines! Air Force: Above All!