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AFSO21 a 'culture and a process'

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- In December 2006, I was called into the office of Capt. Gordon Beran, Operations Officer for the 36th Maintenance Squadron. He informed me that I would be taking command of the Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight immediately. Master Sgt. Landis Pauole would be joining me as my new Flight Chief and we were tasked to do whatever it took to turn around a plummeting in-commission rate.

At the time, the flight had an in-commission rate of 74.1 percent with some individual accounts in the low 60s. This low in-commission rate was a major issue as AGE is made up of almost all the ground equipment needed for aircraft operations. No AGE means no sorties.

At the time, I had just completed Lean/Six Sigma Training (Navy and Civilian version of AFSO21) and was eager to put my training to use. Over the first week, I called together all my section leaders and laid out our goal - to bring in-commission rates over 85 percent by the UCI - and began collecting data on possible problem areas.

We found that segregation of deployed personnel, a lengthy parts ordering process and lack of quick fix maintenance were our top three culprits. Over the next two weeks, we developed a complete process redesign and on January 8, 2007 we kicked off our plan. It was an amazing success.

By February, equipment awaiting parts had fallen 67 percent, and by March our in-commission rate had climbed to 86 percent. In April, our servicing section rearranged the location of AGE on the flight line and slashed delivery times in half. When the UCI hit in May, the Flight was recognized as an outstanding team.

I provide this true story because I believe it illustrates a few key points about AFSO21.

The first is that AFSO21 is a team effort. When I took over the AGE Flight, I had a very limited knowledge about how the flight operated. If I had gone in and tried to utilize AFSO21 tools without my technical experts (Flight Chief and Section Leaders), I would have met with disaster.

If you think AFSO21 is about an egghead facilitator coming and telling you how to do your job, you are wrong. AFSO21 facilitators exist to provide you the AFSO21 tools and concepts you need to succeed. The ideas that ultimately created a turnaround in the AGE Flight did not come from me. They came from my flight chief and section leaders. I just gave them the tools they needed to identify the root problem and develop solutions. The fact is that AFSO21 facilitators are NOT trained to provide solutions; they are trained to facilitate them, just like their duty title says.

The second key point is that AFSO21 is a culture and a process, not a destination. After the roll out of the new design, the AGE Flight did not declare victory and then go back to business as usual. Instead, they began looking for other ways to improve their processes. he relocation of AGE on the flight line came not from Flight level supervision, but from a section leader working with a bright Airman.

AFSO21 is like safety, in that you do not say "I am going to go ride my motorcycle and then I am going to go be safe". You say "I am going to ride my motorcycle safely." AFSO21 should be incorporated into everything you do. If something strikes you as being inefficient then you should look for more efficient ways to conduct the task.

The final key point is that AFSO21 works. Many naysayers state that the Air Force is not a business and therefore tools and concepts developed in the business world won't work in the Air Force. To the extent that the Air Force does not exist to make a profit, they are right. However, AFSO21 is not about making a profit, it is about eliminating waste and serving your customer. The Air Force has both waste that we need to eliminate and customers that we need to serve. Therefore, AFSO21 is exactly what we need.

Budgetary constraints make it impossible to keep doing things the same way we always have. Innovative solutions are needed and AFSO21 is here to help develop them. However, these innovative ideas will not come from some eggheaded AFSO21 facilitator; they will come from hard working Airmen willing to look for better ways to accomplish the mission.