Air Force program learns from Airmen

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The Air Force Lessons Learned program gives Airmen the opportunity to share their combat experiences to help future service members, according to the director of Air Force Analyses, Assessments and Lessons Learned (A9).

"Every Airman is valued and can initiate change across our Air Force by submitting an observation in the Joint Lessons Learned Information System," Dr. Jacqueline R. Henningsen said. "We often hear the term 'lessons learned,' and every day we try to learn lessons to improve our personal and professional lives.

"Simply put, the Air Force Lessons Learned program makes lessons from today's Airmen into learning for tomorrow's Air Force," she said. "Through this program, Airmen can make a difference."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has acknowledged the importance of the lessons learned process in initiating change to training, materiel and doctrine and institutionalizing those improvements.

This is done so that the Air Force can deliver the capabilities it is called upon to provide for the joint team and the nation, General Schwartz said. "How do we do this most effectively? We listen. We evaluate. We adapt."

Airmen have already influenced a range of issues, Doctor Henningsen said. They include:

-- Irregular warfare and operational-level planning
-- Total Force Integration and force structure
-- Building partnership capacity and defense support to civilian agencies
-- Unmanned aircraft systems, and emerging tactics, techniques and procedures
-- Specialty re-enlistment bonuses
-- Fireproofing Air Battle uniforms 

The Air Force Lessons Learned program relies on "push-pull" processes to contribute to the Air Force's culture of learning and improvement, Doctor Henningsen said.

Under "pull," personnel in lessons learned offices across the Air Force team with subject-matter experts in collecting information, gathering key data and conducting interviews with Airmen at all levels. This team then identifies lessons earmarked for resolution, help reinforce successes or pinpoint important knowledge to be shared with the greater Air Force community.

Once the collection is complete, the team builds a formal report of observations, lessons identified and implications. Air Force organizations with a stake in each observation document how they are resolving problems or spreading the word on innovations.

Other "pull" reports, such as after-action reviews and flash bulletins, also identify lessons, Doctor Henningsen said. Airmen in lessons learned offices load reports into the Joint Lessons Learned Information System so process owners can track progress, broadcast successes and share knowledge. JLLIS is the repository for all Department of Defense lessons learned programs. It is every Airman's warehouse of Air Force and joint lessons.

Under "push," Airman can submit observations about his or her experience directly into JLLIS. Observations are not complaints, "write ups" or "report cards," the Doctor said. An observation is any improvement to military operations that results in long-term change to an individual or an organization.

"The JLLIS program seeks to enhance readiness and improve combat capability by capitalizing on the vast experiences and knowledge of Airmen," Doctor Henningsen said.

When an Airman submits an observation in JLLIS, officials review the submission, she said. Subject matter experts examine the observations for validation, preliminary evaluation and potential implementation. Eventually, the observation, if adopted, can become a lesson learned.

Many JLLIS submissions by Airmen have had a positive impact on the overall Air Force mission, Doctor Henningsen said. Several Headquarters Air Force Lessons Learned Focus Area Reports have been included in professional military education and warfighting core curriculum courses at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Another example from deployed commanders help to ease the deployment experience by pre-positioning mobility bags in theater, Doctor Henningsen said. "This initiative reduced the number of bags that members were required to deploy by pre positioning mobility bags in theater, which also resulted in an increase of passenger space and significant fuel cost savings."

Many lessons learned come from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Doctor Henningsen said. From 2008 through 2009, the LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education officials incorporated 33 of these lessons into doctrine. Similarly, the Center for Army Lessons Learned made 26 changes to Army Doctrine based on these Air Force reports.

Airman can register for JLLIS at the secure web site, using their common access card.

By registering in JLLIS, Airmen also have access to information on lessons learned, including reports, bulletins and links to lessons learned communities across the Air Force, joint team and interagency partners, Doctor Henningsen said. Additional information is also available in the Air Force Knowledge Now Community of Practice under "A9L AFKN COP" and "AFKN L2 Clearing House COP."