Sword Athena 2024: Breaking Barriers

  • Published
  • By Jasmine Braswell
  • Air Combat Command

Volunteers from across Air Combat Command presented proposed solutions to female and family-centric readiness barriers to Gen. Ken Wilsbach, commander of Air Combat Command, during the annual Sword Athena Summit here April 30.

Wilsbach approved a host of action items aimed at improving quality of life for Airmen.

One effort intended to improve communication among Airmen is the Peer Airmen In-Residence Program. PAIR is made up of junior enlisted Airmen who live in the dorms and undergo formal training from base agencies and resiliency programs. PAIR volunteers can assist Airmen with first-time experiences ranging from going through a permanent change of station and managing finances, to maintaining work-life balance or buying a car. The program is designed to help Airmen navigate military life, ensure they are connected to a community and provide a smooth transition into the operational Air Force.

In addition, ACC is planning to host the first PAIR ACC Dorm Management Best Practice Summit with the goal of identifying success stories and publishing a framework for leadership to execute PAIR at all ACC installations.

Wilsbach also approved an initiative to improve access to female flight suits.

The Battlefield Airmen Rapid Refresh and Replenish System, or BARS, is a central equipment hub used by the U.S. Air Force to manage and distribute gear to battlefield Airmen.

Currently, there are inconsistencies with access to one-piece female flight suits within ACC. The current budget is $100,000, which only supplies 200 women with flight suits. To combat this issue, COMACC approved $700,000 for fiscal 2024 to equip nearly 1,500 female aviators from ACC.

A third topic Sword Athena is addressing is the discrepancy between the availability of childcare and the work hours of mission essential personnel.

Per Wilsbach, child development centers and youth programs will conduct a study of best practices by surveying parents, posting a message to the field to normalize CDC and YP support, and changing AFI 34-144 language to reflect the directive. The language shift will enable transparency for leadership to assess and address the needs of Airmen who rely on the CDC for childcare.

These programs contribute to the overall health and well-being of military families by ensuring children receive proper care and giving active-duty military members peace of mind, which allows them to focus on their careers. 

“What we need to do is continue to break down the barriers for service, not only for women but for families,” said Wilsbach.

Families face other issues like inefficient and inaccessible family care plans. Family care plans are designed to support service members and their families by ensuring that adequate care arrangements are in place when a member is temporarily absent due to deployment, training or other duty-related reasons. Through Sword Athena, ACC is introducing new technology that will create faster solutions to family care issues and a more transparent form of communication.

The Virtual Family Care Plan is a SharePoint app that improves accessibility to care plans for military families. Wilsbach authorized an annual subscription to the app for ACC wings, and the 633rd Communication Squadron at JBLE will be the first to test the virtual option.

Another tool at the Air Force’s disposal is the U.S. Air and Space Force Commander's Key Support Program, formerly the Key Spouse Program, an official unit family readiness program designed to enhance readiness and establish a sense of community.

Mrs. Michelle Wagoner of the 505th Command and Control Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and a member of the Sword Athena Family Readiness Working Group, spoke of a solution to have full-time civilian positions at the group level who can alleviate administrative burdens that currently fall on unit leadership and first sergeants. 

Wilsbach approved a one-year pilot program at the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, and the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, to allow proper vetting.

The final issue the Sword Athena team addressed is providing accessible bathrooms for defenders. 

Defenders who do not have immediate access to a restroom due to manning or distance are forced to wait for relief, which can cause cognitive and bodily stress. 

Wilsbach approved a data call to scope the availability of restrooms for defenders across ACC. He emphasized that “restrooms are not something to take a risk on and there should be equitable opportunities to get to the restroom.”

Chief Master Sgt. David Wolfe, command chief of Air Combat Command, concluded the summit by recognizing all the volunteers.

“There’s no way to solve these [issues] at an institutional level without the hard work of the folks who are on this team, so thank you,” he said.

Sword Athena 24 milestones:

1. Athena Parthenon at Langley AFB May 1, 2024
2. Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium in Arlington, Virginia, June 25-28
3. TORCH Athena Rally at Lackland AFB, Texas, Aug. 27-28
4. AFA, National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 14-15  

To volunteer for Sword Athena in 2025, or to give personal insight or different perspectives, contact sword.athena@us.af.mil.