Air Force can't afford 'status quo'

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Matthew Knoll
  • 366th Medical Group
Recently Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Forces Committee regarding a $32 billion cut in defense spending next year.
This represents approximately a five percent decrease of the proposed $614 billion budget.

While $26 billion is expected to be deleted from spending in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also noted the military will need additional money to restore itself, replace war-torn equipment, modernize weapons and retrain troops. So no matter how you look at it, spending cuts are going to affect almost every facet of our military careers.

As we look around the Wing and our Air Force, we already see some effects of stricter budgets in areas such as reduced dining facility hours and Fitness Assessment Cell restructuring. But another specific point Dempsey made was that these cuts, "will not lead to a military in decline."

So within these constraints, how will we continue to maintain normal operations? I propose we cannot. I am not saying we cannot maintain the world's most agile and powerful Air Force, but that we cannot maintain the status quo.

Maintaining status quo is to travel down the old road of, "do more with less," but this is just not tenable in the long term. And once we admit our Air Force must do less with less, we are able to ask perhaps the most important question -- "What can we stop doing?"

In the Air Force as in many civilian businesses, we must think lean. Lean is simply a method and mindset for reducing waste in all of the processes we use to execute our mission. This means scrutinizing any and all activities that do not add value or enhance the mission.

If it does not directly change the form, fit or function of our product, service or mission, then it is wasting our time, money and materiel. While some things may spring to mind when speaking of wasted time or money, identifying the waste is not always simple. In order to identify waste, we must first clearly define the specific mission or customer we are supporting. Secondly, we must be willing to change.

Despite what my Basic Training Instructor might say, we as leaders must encourage all Airmen to ask why. As senior noncommissioned officers in-charge, we must not cringe when we hear, "at my last base."

Often if you ask "why" enough, you can get down to the root cause of wasted resources. If you are willing to consider another's experiences you can share best practices, benchmark successes and avoid pitfalls.

However you say it, we have got to take a long hard look at what we do every day and be open to the idea that some of our actions are wasting resources which are better used elsewhere.

Through my involvement with Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO 21), I have seen lean and other process improvement tools put to use. There have been tremendous time and money savings across our Wing; and many of the ideas that led to these improvements were not from leadership but from junior members.

One improvement in restructuring the Medical Right Start program saved 120 hours a month for Wing newcomers, raised medical in-processing compliance to 100 percent, was showcased at a conference for Air Force medical leadership and was led by a Senior Airman (now SSgt Julia Faulks).

Although I do believe we cannot always do more with less, I'm also a realist and understand many of us will be called upon to work longer hours and take on more duties. We'll do so because the mission requires it and we've dedicated ourselves to service before self.

But at a time when we see impacts of spending cuts all around, we cannot afford to do things simply because it's always been done that way. Our Air Force culture, which continues to hold fast certain customs and traditions, must also be a culture of change and adaptability.