You make the difference in Smart Operations 21

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jay Jacques
  • 366th Component Maintenance Squadron
One of my favorite shows on TV is "60 Minutes," and specifically Andy Rooney's segments. He has a direct way of asking, "Why?"

Some of the "why's" I hear most are, "Why is everything computerized? Why do we have so much training on-line? Why is there no longer an office with people in it to do (fill in the blank)?"

I'm sure conversations with bosses, co-workers and friends are the same and usually start with a new Air Force program or frustration through a bad experience. Of course, we all know the answer to many of these questions. The Air Force is trying to save money through force reduction and process efficiencies. War is expensive, and our leaders are searching for ways to "pay the bill."

"Doing more with less" is an old phrase some people don't like to hear, but it's exactly what Air Force Smart Operations 21, or AFSO 21, is all about.

Air Force leaders feel so strongly about AFSO 21 they created its own program office at the Pentagon. This office was created in response to an initiative by Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne to look at process improvement across the service. It takes the lead in optimizing the way the Air Force conducts its mission and provides top-level guidance for implementing AFSO 21 initiatives.

These initiatives enhance an Air Force mindset already geared toward innovation, said Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, director of the Air Force Smart Operations 21 office.

"The Air Force has always fostered a culture of innovation," General Gilbert said. "We are trying to take that culture of innovation to the next level, where we look at all the processes involved in what we do. We look at not doing more with less, but at being smarter about the way we are doing business -- eliminating work that is unnecessary. We have tried to capture lessons learned from industry and government agencies involved in process improvement."

Senior leaders designed the program specifically for the Air Force, and it is based on similar industry process improvement practices like Lean, Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints. An example here of this innovation is in the 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron's phase section. Through a Lean initiative, squadron members developed an idea to move consolidated tool kits next to the aircraft. This decreased the number of trips by multiple technicians across a large hangar every day.

"Air Force Smart Operations 21 is a term coined by Air Force senior leadership to represent not only a program to institutionalize continuous process improvement, but also to describe a new way of thinking about the Air Force," General Gilbert said. "We want to be smart about the things we do for the future."

Air Combat Command's No. 1 AFSO 21 initiative came from the 366th EMS. This initiative reduced work-hours from 320 to 88.5 without sacrificing quality. The corrosion section reduced the full aircraft paint process by 20 percent and gained 48 hours of fully mission-capable time.

While formal implementation of AFSO 21 practices across the Air Force have just begun, General Gilbert doesn't believe it will be short-lived or ineffective as other process improvement programs have been.

"We have found that even skeptics, after they have participated in an AFSO 21 event, come away convinced there is real possibility here, that there was a return on investment and that they had an impact," he said. "AFSO 21 is about a mindset for the 21st century. This is not a short-term program. It is a program to fundamentally change the culture of the Air Force for the long haul."

It's hard for most of us to adjust to change. I told a young Airman the other day that "in the old days," almost everything was done for you. For example, before departing for a temporary duty, you would go to the finance office where they would have you sign some paperwork, send you to a "cage" much like a bank teller and someone would hand you cash for your trip. The Airman was shocked because today's Airmen do it themselves. They can simply show up at the airport with a confirmation number and a government credit card, and off they go.

I would agree that there is waste in many areas and processes. Ask yourself, what is around you that could be improved, and what would you do to remove waste? The Air Force is cutting spending and people. But believe it or not, we do have a say on how to do it smartly.

You are the "smart" in Smart Ops, not a group of people in an office at the Pentagon. The key lies within Airmen in every small office, back shop and flightline break room, who generate ideas in small increments but when added together are enormous. We all share the responsibility of paying this large bill.

As another cost-cutting measure, Air Force officials plan to reduce the service's current size by 40,000 full-time equivalent positions by 2011. This amounts to roughly 35,000 active-duty positions. Air Force officials continuously study the force structure and retention tendencies. By doing this, they can predict to some degree what skills will be needed in recruitment, how many people are recruited in each skill set and the likelihood of those individuals staying for a longer or shorter career.

The Air Force's expeditionary nature will also impact the personnel authorization reduction decisions. The Air Force analyzes and prioritizes each career field from a perspective of what it takes for each specialty to support the air and space expeditionary force.

"This plan is fairly front-loaded," said Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel. "To take care of some investment accounts we have, and to meet some obligations that were requested of us by the DOD, about 20,000 (positions) must come out by the end of fiscal year 2007."

Only time will tell the full impact of AFSO 21 and force reduction, but these cuts are vital to meet budgetary restraints now and for our future. We will be the ones to make this a success or failure.