“Make it so” with AFSO21 and “Engage” in 2012!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Tracey Saiki
"Make it so," an iconic 24th century quote by Star Trek: The Next Generation's Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Picard would say this after a collective decision or suggestion was offered on how to get out of a serious situation or how to improve mission effectiveness. Picard trusted and relied on the talent and knowledge of diverse teams working together to resolve nearly hopeless situations.

U.S. Air Force: the Next Generation. So, what are today's Airmen doing to, "Make it so," for the future of the U.S. Air Force and its Airmen? They're doing Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century, a.k.a. AFSO21. Improvements only come with changes, and now more than ever, we need Capt Picard-like leaders and Airmen to support, implement, and impact such change to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace amongst government instability and reductions in overall defense spending.

In November 2005, then Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne issued a "Letter to Airmen" titled, "Walk waste out the door." This started the Air Force on its journey to become 'best in class' with 'lean processes.' Then, in March 2006, a SECAF follow-on letter was released that introduced and established AFSO21 as a, "dedicated effort to maximize value and minimize waste in our (Air Force) operations." Easier said than done.

"Things are only impossible until they're not," said Picard. In PACAF, a dynamic council of AFSO 21 'black belt' masters facilitate 'green belt' courses where the AFSO21 mentoring takes place. Airmen experience 'mental martial arts' and learn new disciplines and techniques to 'cut waste', minimize downtime, and streamline processes via the Air Force's '8-Step Problem Solving Model': 1) clarify the problem; 2) break down the problem/identify performance gaps; 3) set improvement target; 4) determine root causes; 5) develop countermeasures; 6) see countermeasures through; 7) confirm results and processes; and 8) standardize successful processes.

AFSO21 renews the Airman's mind to 'learn to see' how things get done by 'walking the processes' through the 8 Steps; see how and why things happen in parallel, sequentially and chronologically; and to 'diagnose fully before prescribing.' It's a means to explore strange new processes and designs; discover new targets and goals; and to boldly go where no branch, squadron, group, wing, or MAJCOM has gone before.

AFSO21 provides a venue, a 'same sheet of music' for a collaborative process to focus on a single event through effective communication, teamwork, and 360-degree perspectives. Like Picard's crew, an AFSO21's team strength is in its diversity and the ability for Airmen of all ranks, responsibilities, and expertise to path-find a new way of accomplishing the mission. Here are two recent PACAF AFSO21 team events that were given the, "Make it so."

If Airmen stationed at PACAF bases have a medical condition that cannot be treated at the base level, they are referred to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii as outpatients. Unlike the other service components, there was no dedicated Air Force case manager responsible for tracking and scheduling these Airmen to get the medical attention and assistance needed, and return to their home station in minimal time. There was also a lack of outpatient ownership and poor communication between base medical providers and TAMC. There was no process, no protocols, and no standard work. This resulted in unnecessary loss of man-hours with triple or double-duty at Airman's home station work section, and excessive TDY costs thus, both having big negative impacts on the unit's overall combat effectiveness. Countermeasures such as, distributing process standard work and guidance; educating and improving communications between base-level leadership, WestPac and TAMC staff; and developing an outpatient handbook were soon implemented. Within months, a 22-day outpatient TDY dropped to an 8.5-day average. The set goal average was 10 days. Once the AF hiring freeze is lifted, an AF case manager will be hired so we can sustain or exceed current results.

A Greenbelt Warrior from Misawa said that in the maintenance world, individuals tend to perform tasks in the same way that they were trained without any thought to the possibility of improving the tasks. For him, AFSO21 was a venue to step out of the, 'this is how we've always done it' mindset and evaluate what his Airmen were doing for possible improvement. The 35th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight trailer shop was not optimized to minimize 'touch time' for inspections on two types of trailers. After 'walking' the inspection process, some root causes revealed an excess of unnecessary tools and a shortfall of necessary tools; minimal technical order accountability; poor lighting and storage space; and a lack of intra-shop communication. Initially, a roll of duct tape redesigned the physical layout of the work area with easier access and return of proper tools. Soon, portable lighting was installed; proper TO accountability procedures were implemented; and shop-to-shop talk was improved. The goal was a reduction of 4.4 hours for both trailers. Countermeasures resulted in reducing both average trailer inspections times from 10 hours to 6.1 hours and from 12 hours to 5.4 hours with standardized corrosion control procedures. That returned 10.5 hours back to the ammo shop for every two trailers. That's more than one duty day; leaving ample time for maintainers to do physical fitness, ancillary training, take leave, or go to TAMC as an outpatient without impacting unit's overall operational combat effectiveness.

"We're much further along than when we first started, but we are still in the beginning of the continuous improvement journey," said Colonel Brou Gautier, Director of AFSO21 across PACAF. "The most powerful thing about AFSO21 is any Airman can apply continuous improvement tools to improve the productivity of his or her time. In doing so, they will directly help COMPACAF attain priority one goals: immediate and effective combat capability in the face of daunting budget and personnel cuts," he added.

The 8-steps is now a part of all PME and First-term Airmen course curricula. This emphasizes the fact that '8-Step Problem Solving Model' is not separate from training like we fight and can be applied to all aspects of the job from task performance to leadership. If you want to be a part of the change you seek in improving our Air Force, contact your Wing AFSO21 lead and sign-up for the Greenbelt course. To learn more about AFSO 21 in PACAF go to: https://pacaf.eim.pacaf.af.mil/AFSO21/default.aspx

Recently, President Obama directed all government agencies to look at ways to, "root out wasteful spending" to make government fiscally work better for the American people. In his January 2012 national military strategy document, 'Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,' he directs the Defense Department, in priority number four of eight, to "continue to reduce the 'cost of doing business.'"

Let's "make it so" by setting our sites on the next Air Force generation horizon. It's time for us to go to, "AFSO21 warp speed ahead" and "engage in 2012!"