ACC Sword Athena initiative takes action, builds connections

  • Published
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

With an overarching mission to advance command priorities, one of Air Combat Command’s mission area working groups (MAWGs) plans to accomplish this with a new innovative approach called Sword Athena 2020 (SA20).

SA20 will increase squadron readiness, build leaders, and bring the future faster by focusing on five lines of effort: mental health, flyers, equipment and gear, family and psychological safety.

“Our Director of Intelligence, Brig. Gen. Gregory Gagnon, always says, ‘Our Power is our People,’ and I couldn’t agree more,” said Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of ACC. “And with Sword Athena 2020, our first event to crowdsource issues from the field, I’ll be depending on our Airmen to identify issues, tackle them through critical thinking and barrier analysis, and propose solutions directly to me. We are giving power to the amazing Airmen of ACC to tell me what they need to get the mission done.”

ACC Sword Athena will be limited to a maximum of 50 people based on the local guidance.  Although not the larger, in-person event originally envisioned, the passion and drive of those nominated by their wings is undiminished. SA20 will have a small in-person contingent IAW local HPCON guidance, but will maximize virtual options, to include the 30 days of virtual collaboration before the event.

Mental Health

Within the mental health line of effort, the SA20 MAWG is focused on identifying family-centric barriers that would impact readiness and coming up with ways to remove them.

“Our Mental Health MAWG have been looking at how to provide virtual, 24/7 mental access to members,” said Maj. Veronica “V” Brownheim, ACC Deputy Command Bioenvironmental Engineer. “We are currently researching on the specific impact of security clearances to provide updated policy information.



Taking care of female flyers can help revitalize the squadron and make ACC more lethal as a whole by improving their quality of life when it comes to flight equipment sizes, their duty not in flight (DNIF) and pregnancy discrimination.

“We are working to enabling flyers, (pregnant females and others that are DNIF), to earn gate months while DNIF,” Brownheim said. “We are working on suitable sizes to fit our smaller females as even the smallest [male] sizes (i.e. gloves) are too big.  These changes may be small, but it will go a long way [towards] ensuring that we at ACC are ready at all time.”


There are also some improvements within the ACC Sword Athena Initiative that help with the usage of equipment and gear such as gloves, pants for maintainers, dedicated crew chief overalls, and stools.  In the grand scheme, these improvements develop and sustain elements of both a "Fight Tonight" and a "Deploy Tonight, Fight Tomorrow" force.


“With our combined initiatives in our five MAWGS, we hope to tackle the reoccurring issues that we have seen thus far,” Brownheim said. “These improvements are the beginning of hopefully a line of efforts in sustaining our force by making incremental improvements in our overall Readiness.”



In addition to the other lines of effort, presenting solutions to female and family-centric barriers to readiness can help ACC develop personal and professional connections across the command. In example, single mothers in the Air Force, spouses and children can oftentimes shoulder a heavy burden during increased duty hours, operations tempos and times of family separation.

Senior leaders within Air Combat are doing what they can to make enlisted and commissioned service easier for female Airmen and Airmen of all genders with families.

“When it comes to nursing moms, mothers-room awareness and fitness programs, we have an example of a best practice story at Shaw Air Force Base where lactation pods are now available to our flight line maintenance workers,” Brownheim said. “When it comes to child development center waitlists – we have seen success at one of our bases where small tweaks from a force support commander drastically reduced CDC waitlist issues; directly aiding in our Readiness as a service.”

Additionally, COVID-19 lessons learned when it comes to the Airmen and families line of effort will also be discussed within SA20’s MAWGs, Brownheim explained.

Psychological Safety

In simple terms, psychological safety and employee engagement can be defined as avoiding psychological abuse in the workplace. Examples of this can be characterized as workplace bullying, discrimination, verbal abuse, and other forms of abuse that may result in severe anxiety, depression and psychological trauma within employees.

“With the nexus of many issues in our country today in terms of race, sexual orientation, gender gaps, etc, psychological safety and employee engagement are more important than ever to ensure that our members feel comfortable speaking up when they see something wrong and against our AF culture,” Brownheim said. “We need to create this psychological safe space so that all members are comfortable speaking up and ensuring that everyone feel welcomed in their work environments.” 

Overall, the U.S. Air Force has a diverse collection of Airmen of different genders, races, beliefs, biases and cultural backgrounds. SA20 Leadership Symposium in August will develop rising leaders, across all enlisted and commissioned ranks, to focus on the female- and family-centric issues that impact readiness.

“In ACC, one size does not fit all,” Holmes said. “Whether it’s our female maintainers with gloves and overalls that don’t fit, mental health access for shift workers, female pilots still struggling with bladder relief, [inaccessible] lactation rooms for our flightline personnel, Airmen have told me we have some changes to make.”