A fresh perspective to preserve America

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Daniel Manuel
  • 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron
In a dark alley on the outskirts of town, a sinister force lies plotting... 

It's difficult to discern a more challenging environment to operate in than today's Air Force - it's as challenging as I've seen in 17 years. 

Budgets and other resources are shrinking, taskings are growing. The threats to America have not gone away and in some cases grow more dangerous (and more insidious) by the day. 

Many less than friendly countries and organizations are working hard to put America at risk right here and now, with long term plans being diligently carried out to erode the advantages we've worked hard to establish. 

Meanwhile in another part of Gotham City, aging infrastructure threatens the long term viability of the Air Force. I hadn't given this much thought until I sat through a briefing a year ago at Headquarters Air Combat Command. 

The challenges we face recapitalizing the force are serious - the average age of aircraft is just over 28-years-old. If you don't think that's a problem ask yourself why you're not driving a 1979 Chrysler K-car. 

OK, our jets aren't K-cars, but you get the point. As things age, costs both in manpower and dollars to maintain the jet the way it rolled off the assembly line go through the roof, while overall effectiveness erodes. Ask any maintainer out on the flight line or aviator driving jets if they have seen the impact of aging aircraft and I'll bet you get a resounding "YES". 

The challenges associated with that can be tough to grasp if you're not working directly on the flying and maintenance side of the mission everyday, perhaps this next number will help. 

Right now, at the rate the Air Force is replacing buildings, you (or more precisely your great, great, great, great, great, great, grandchild) won't work in a new facility for 258 years - that's a long time to wait. 

It's roughly the equivalent of setting up shop in Independence Hall in Philadelphia -- probably gonna be tough to hook into the Internet, get that video teleconference set up or perform low observable maintenance. 

The Air Force has a large bill to pay, no doubt. All this is coming to a head right in the middle of the Global War on Terror and other threats to national security. Where is the superhero that will lead us off into the sunset. 

You are that hero! It's true whether you're a supervisor or the person who's gonna "git r done". The only way the Air Force can meet the challenge of modernizing the hardware and meeting the threat is by turning loose the talent imbedded in the force. 

Today more than ever, the Air Force needs a fresh approach to how we go about carrying out the National Military Strategy both at the "photo grande" level and how we can better get the individuals' job done at the unit level. 

You don't need any special Air Force Smart Operations-21 training, nor do you need anyone's permissios - you need only be a 'well rounded expert' who takes a deep breath and looks around for a better way. 

A "well rounded expert." What the heck does that mean? 

What I mean is: The Air Force spent a bunch of money making you good at what you do and a bunch of money has gone into your education. Across the board, the Air Force is extremely well educated. According to Air Force Personnel Center, 73 percent of the enlisted force has 12 or more hours of college credit, 20 percent has an associates degree or higher. 

Beyond formal education, nearly every professional I've had the honor to serve with is intelligent and well read. From what I've seen, I know your smart, not just educated.
Use the training you've gotten in your job and the education you've built to take a hard look at what you do and figure a way to make it "faster and funnier." Don't just complain about a seemingly silly task, find out what drives it and come up with a better way. 

Supervisors, listen hard to what your people are telling you when they suggest a better way. Even if it's the new guy, a fresh perspective is an unbelievably powerful thing.
Work with your folks if they question how we do a particular task. Ask yourself, "Have we always done it that way because it's tried and true or do we always do it that way because that's how we always do it?" "Is there still a valid reason that we do it that way or even do it at all?" 

I think a fresh perspective is an unbelievably powerful thing. Great example, a wing would accept a jet after doing all the inspections, pass it to another wing and it would be completely reinspected -- somewhere along the way it was decided that the qualified people doing the job had to have all their work redone by people just as qualified as the first folks. 

Gen. Ronald Keys, ACC commander, stated, "If it's dumb, it's not my policy, even if I signed it the first time." I can't think of a more empowering statement to take a look at what we're doing and make it better. 

Our four star boss is telling us he's willing to change tack, even if it runs counter to the first policy he signed. He even said, "circumstances change that can invalidate past policies." 

We are at an amazing crossroads. The threat is out there and it's real. The Air Force is craving new ways to get the mission done in a very constrained and demanding environment. 

We have one of the best, if not the best educated military in the world. If you've got a good idea, I can't think of a better time to bring it forward. The Air Force is listening. America, your "customer," needs it. 

Thank you for serving your nation in time of war.