From the Top: The Air Force and automation

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Patrica Helderman
  • 36th Comptroller Squadron
Editor's note: Technical Sgt. Patrica Helderman served as the 36th CPTS acting first sergeant at the time of submission. 

If it appears like members are becoming increasingly responsible for their military records, appointments and training, it's because we are. Welcome to the 21st century military. 

Thanks to systems such as myPay, LeaveWeb, vMPF, Assignment Management System (AMS), Automated Records Management System (ARMS), Air Force Virtual Education Center (AFVEC), Defense Travel System (DTS), and TriCare on-line, not to mention the multitude of web based training sites Air Force members now have more control of and liability for their personal information. 

What use to be something new and quite annoying is now part of everyday life. Gone are the days of going to finance and asking for a copy of your LES or W2. Now you will be asked why you are not using myPay and directed to the Web site. 

Where it used to take weeks to receive your WAPS promotion scores, they are now available for review within a day or two of results being released. 

Previously, members could blame their orderly room for not updating their "dream sheet" and their subsequent remote tour to Korea; now all the responsibility is on us.
Record of Emergency Data (vRed) changes, untimely leave request submissions and allotments that don't get stopped are all currently our fault as individual Airmen. No longer do we have the stand-by excuse, "I dropped off the paperwork."

Everyone has an opinion of the new technology that has been forced upon us. There are many arguments that can be made for the good and bad. A lot of debate is made concerning computer accessibility. For example, not every Airman has the luxury of sitting behind a desk all day or sitting at a desk at all during the day, and some websites still are not accessible, except from a government computer. 

Because of these circumstances, personnel assisting these folks need to keep this in mind, but unfortunately it will not change the mind set of where our air force is going. With computer access at work, libraries, internet cafes, personal home computers, and even internet on your phone or palm pilot, the world of automated services will not be going anywhere. 

Even those of us who are guilty for pushing the use of these systems to our customers get frustrated when it happens to ourselves on the other end of the phone or opposite side of the customer service counter. I am forced to remind myself as I am getting irritated that I can not perform a specific function in person, that this is just the way things are now. 

Gone are the good old days when TDY orders were typed and routed by person for approval. You received a hard copy, went to book the tickets, performed your duty and returned to finance with your receipts to file a travel voucher. 

Now members are burdened with creating their own orders in DTS, a system that is unfamiliar to most given they probably rarely use it. The TDY itinerary is automatically routed to the CTO office and your tickets are booked for you without ever talking to a person. When you return, you have to sign into the same unfamiliar system and navigate your way through to ensure you get reimbursed properly and don't accidentally claim something your not supposed to. 

Why do we use these systems if they seem to make life more difficult? A lot of the Air Force's most popular automated processes were developed and implemented for the same reason: manning. 

As manning across the Air Force decreases and more Airmen are deployed from their home units, there are fewer bodies left behind to do the work. Therefore, all these tools that we find annoying at times are allowing those remaining to take care of the mission at home. It also means that when you are the one performing these actions, you are still available for duty at your work site. 

Not all of the systems are frustrating all of the time and most of us probably appreciate them more then we realize. The convenience of pulling up your LES from anywhere in the world is an enormous convenience. 

Although our personnel record being scanned into ARMS is a fairly new tool, I have  found that it is very handy. No longer will Airman have to go to MPF to give their supervisor a copy of their last two EPRs. All of your personnel information is at your finger tips. Many of us have never read all of our EPRs because we just never took or had the time to go to MPF and pull copies. Now, like with so many other things, we can get the information any time we want day or night. 

The Air Force and automation go hand in hand in our 21st century living. As I look back over the 11-plus years I have spent in the military, sometimes I can't believe how things have changed. I can only imagine what my perspective will be when I retire. And as our technology and mission evolve, hand in hand, I am sure I will be talking to young Airmen the same way my parents talked to me about growing up, "Back when I was your age ..." Except I'm sure mine would be something similar to, "Back when I was a young Airman/NCO ..."