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AFMC commander: Tough decisions create opportunities

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, the commander of Air Force Materiel Command, told members of Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, the biggest challenge the Air Force faces is doing business in a constrained budget environment.

"That has driven tough decisions, but also creates opportunities," said Wolfenbarger, during her Aug. 26 visit here.

During an all call, Wolfenbarger said many of the younger Airmen have never experienced a budget downturn like this one. She told Airmen that if history is any indicator, "We will weather this downturn, and make the optimum decisions to be prepared for our elected officials to determine it's time to rebuild the military and our national defense."

"This is a tough environment," she said. "AFMC is 75 percent civilian, and we put these Airmen through an unprecedented administrative furlough last summer due to sequestration, resulting in a 20 percent pay cut for civilian personnel for six pay periods. That is a tool we never want to use again."

Wolfenbarger said when Air Force senior leaders came together to discuss the budget reductions legislated through the year 2023, they asked themselves what the Air Force must continue doing, despite the anticipated reduced budget. Their determination was that the Air Force must continue to execute largely the same core missions that it was originally chartered to execute when the service was first formed back in 1947. The general said ultimately the decision was that the Air Force has to live within its means and become smaller.

"We still have to defeat high-end, high-spectrum threats," she said. "But we can't do everything we had planned to do. Decisions had to be made to determine where to take risks. Those were hard, thoughtful discussions, but they resulted in a well-thought-out and well-balanced plan for our way forward."

The decision to reduce the force was not an easy one, said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Warner, the AFMC command chief, who talked about the force management programs.

"At the start of the force management in December 2013, the target was to reduce our force size down to (fiscal year 2019) numbers of 308,000," he said. "The numbers actually taken after we started changed, and, at the end, the number reduced us to 317,000 by end of this fiscal year. By end of (fiscal year 2015) the goal is to be at 310,000."

Wolfenbarger talked about the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" aversion to change. She said though some resist change, now is the time to forward all your good ideas under the mantra of efficiencies mandated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The general said standardizing processes within AFMC resulted in the identification of cost savings or cost avoidance to the Air Force of more than $3 billion in just one year of operations under the new organizational structure. The Air Force Sustainment Center in collaboration with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center saved $503 million by lowering the depot sales rate by 5 percent for fiscal year 2015. The general said that is huge progress, and a first-ever accomplishment for the air logistics complexes.

As more hard decisions are yet to be made, AFMC continues to be part of those critical discussions.

"This environment allows for good ideas to be looked at, vetted and approved," Wolfenbarger said. "You all are experts at what you do. Now is your time to float those good ideas up the chain. I've never seen the aperture more wide open than it is now for good ideas to get a fair hearing."