Richardson: Teamwork, collaboration key to AFMC success

  • Published
  • By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
  • Air Force Materiel Command

The Air Force Materiel Command’s change of command ceremony, June 13, was more than just an opportunity to welcome a new leader to the organizational helm; it was also a homecoming for the new commander who has spent nearly half of his career as part of the enterprise.

“My first thought was just sheer excitement about rejoining the AFMC team,” said Gen. Duke Z. Richardson, AFMC commander. “If you look at my background, you'll see that I have a lot of years in this command, and so as I was driving here from D.C., I was really excited about returning. I am looking forward to meeting as many people as I can throughout the command.”

Richardson is an Arizona-native and a 39-year Air Force veteran, with more than 17 years working within AFMC. He has held several materiel-related assignments within program offices, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, the AFMC headquarters, the Air Force headquarters, U.S. Special Operations Command, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Unlike most four-star general officers, Richardson spent time as an enlisted Airmen, getting his start as an avionics technician at the former Williams Air Force Base, Arizona.

“I wish I had some great patriotic reason for joining the Air Force,” Richardson said. “My parents didn't have the means to send me away to college, and so the best thing for me at that point was to just get out of the house and get started on life. The Air Force was very appealing to me. My first assignment was a really rewarding time of my life. I actually worked on the flightline on aircraft, and I would also work in the back shop. I really grew up there, and I just absolutely enjoyed working on airplanes.”

That love of aircraft, along with an ingrained understanding of the value of teamwork, has stayed with Richardson throughout his service career. Though his work is less “hands-on” than that of his Airman days, the innate understanding of the value of teamwork to overcome challenges was embedded within him during that first assignment, and it has focused his efforts to make every day count.

“I’ve really loved every job that I’ve been in,” Richardson said. “There are two factors that have been present in each of my prior jobs; the first one is a challenge, and number two is having a really strong team to get after the challenge. I think these two things are really how you make fulfilling jobs for folks … being part of a team [is important] because it's really impossible for a single person to get anything done that's meaningful when there’s a large challenge.”

Richardson’s return to AFMC comes at a time when the command is facing several challenges from near-peer adversaries, resulting in the creation of Secretary of the Air Force-directed operational imperatives to counter these threats. The command is deeply involved in the seven imperatives and must succeed even within a constrained resource environment. With new programs on the horizon, alongside the need to sustain legacy capabilities, AFMC Airmen will need to leverage the inherent collaboration built into the organizational construct.

“We have six purpose-built centers that cover the life cycle from invention and early research, straight to sustainment, and so we cover the entire gamut; including the installation and mission support,” Richardson said. “You put those together, and it's what I call integrated lifecycle management. Our six centers work together to get things done. This command is going to really carry the water for new programs while also sustaining legacy capabilities and keeping platforms viable. We need to figure out a way to answer the call to deliver the next generation of systems while also sustaining the systems that we have--without taking undue risk.”

To help drive the efforts of AFMC Airmen, Richardson has identified five initial focus areas for the workforce. These focus areas include integrated life cycle management, also known as integrated capability delivery, enterprise solutions, process and product innovation, digital materiel and installation management, and workforce development. He hopes to refine these areas as he hears from individuals working missions across the enterprise.

He believes that cross-enterprise collaboration and teamwork underpin the overall success of the command.

“Each of our six centers requires the work of the other centers in order to do their mission; they can’t work alone,” Richardson said. “Integration across the centers, but also within each center, is what we need to deliver a capability and to be able to sustain and improve it over time. If you think about the Agile Combat Employment construct, we need to have enterprise solutions that transcend platforms. We need to take a large role in that, and that’s going to require a lot of collaboration with folks who might normally have a propensity to work in a stovepipe fashion.”

Richardson also plans to maintain momentum in the areas of innovation and digital engineering, with an increased focus on digital materiel management and developing the workforce required to execute mission needs.

“Talent management and workforce development are central. To strengthen AFMC, it all starts with the people. ‘How do we manage our talent?’ ‘How do we develop them?’ ‘How do we give them opportunities to self-actualize?’ This is a very large focus area that undergirds all of the other priorities,” he said.

VIDEO | 07:04 | Gen. Duke Z. Richardson took charge of Air Force Materiel Command June 13, 2022, in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In this video, we hear from Richardson on leadership, the command and what it means to serve. (U.S. Air Force video)

As Richardson settles into his new role, he is confident in the AFMC mission and its critical importance to the Air Force. He is committed to the command, its people and is honored to have the opportunity to serve with the AFMC team.

“I want the workforce to know that they’re going to get my all,” said Richardson. “I’m going to give every ounce that I have to work with this team so that we are successful. What AFMC does is central and underpins everything every other MAJCOM does. I want the AFMC workforce to know that it really doesn't matter whether they're a supply technician at the Air Force Sustainment Center, or a test engineer at the Air Force Test Center, or whether they're running installation support at IMSC [Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center], or they’re building a contract data requirements list within LCMC or at the Nuclear Weapons Center, or if they are working on a very cutting-edge hypersonics program at the Air Force Research Lab … if you put all those things together, that's how we build airpower. We are where it's at.”