Wasting time

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Since 1956, the traditional punishment for rule infractions at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., has been "the tour."
A tour is one hour spent in service dress, carrying a rifle at right shoulder arms, marching in a single-file line around in a square. This isn't a particularly arduous task; however, what makes this punishment so devastatingly obnoxious is that the whole process is intended to be a colossal waste of time. Officers who graduate from the academy gain a unique perspective on the value of their time while contemplating the things they could be doing while marching to nowhere around a square.

Whether it's the 30 minutes waiting for a new ID card or the five days spent at Al Udeid waiting on a rotator to or from your duty location, much of military life involves hurrying to get somewhere and then waiting until permitted to do what comes next. We rely on other people doing their jobs as efficiently as possible to facilitate the completion of our objective.

There are very few tasks we accomplish daily in which we control the entire process. Whether it is maintenance working all night fixing open write-ups, weather forecasters preparing the briefing, controllers processing the flight plan and sequencing air traffic, life support personnel ensuring essential equipment is ready for the aircrew, or the pilot preparing for the mission -- each individual in this process is supported by many others. Anyone failing to accomplish their piece could delay or cancel the entire mission.

Shortly after the operational readiness inspection, I challenged commanders to focus on the value of time to each of you. It can be something small like bringing immunizations out to the flightline to administer flu shots, rather than sending 100 Airmen on the 20-minute round trip to the clinic. Or it could be something as large as rebuilding and automating a squadron training program.

I want you all to look at the things each day which hamper your progress and give some critical thought to the underlying cause. If it's something you can fix, fix it. If an Air Force Instruction prevents it, research it and understand why. Many of our instructions were written to apply to older technologies and processes. If a new program or technique works better without sacrificing safety, then maybe that instruction needs to be changed. AFIs aren't written in stone. They were written by human beings, and there is a process in place to amend them. Of course, this process takes time, but the end result could be a substantial increase in efficiency for generations of Airmen who will follow.

Not only could your idea be good for your job or the Air Force, you might be financially rewarded for it. The IDEA Program is the Air Force Innovative Development through Employee Awareness and it's implemented through AFI 38-401. Anyone in the Air Force can submit an idea and if adopted that individual receives 10 percent of the estimated savings to the Air Force up to $10,000. For more information, people can call their IDEA program manager.

In this era of "do more with less" where many of our offices are undermanned, we must be more efficient. I challenge you to look for ways to save time. Doing this will probably mean an improved process, and we will all be the better for it.