Sometimes it's OK to say no

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Norman Peck
  • 366th Mission Support Squadron
"I'm sorry, but no."

There, I said it. It wasn't easy and something I really hated to do. It meant having to swallow my pride and admit it was something we just couldn't do. There just weren't enough people, enough hours in the day or enough money to get it done, let alone get it done the right way.

In all my years in the Air Force, one of the toughest things to say is "no." It meant, "We give up." It admitted defeat.

One admirable quality about those in uniform is we're stubborn, hardheaded folks. Despite the overwhelming challenges ahead of us, we move forward to get the job done no matter what it takes. We do not like to tell anyone, "It just can't be done."

However, we have to accept the facts. By October, we'll lose 22,000 people Air Force-wide with more to follow over the next four years. Deployment requirements will not go away, meaning those left behind need to pick up the slack. Those who don't deploy still need to get the job done while the rest of their folks are gone. The local mission still needs to happen.

But how?

We must leverage technology and eliminate unnecessary processes now more than ever before in our past. We need to continue to find better ways to do the same high-quality job with fewer people -- finding ways to get the job done faster, better and cheaper. The notion of "but we've always done it that way" won't fly in the Air Force anymore (pun fully intended).

The Air Force's senior leadership knows we're losing people, and they understand we must be realistic and cut things we simply can't do. In fact, leadership has asked for our inputs, and it's time we are brutally honest about what we really can and cannot do. We need to step up, put our pride in check and honestly say what we can and can't do with fewer people in our shops and work centers.

However, that doesn't mean we stop doing things without justification. It means looking at everything we do each duty day and asking some tough questions.

1. What do we do every day? It's best to write it out.

2. Why do we do it, and is there any value added to our mission? In short, does it help the Air Force put bullets and bombs on target?

3. Is this the best way to finish the task? Is there someone out there with a smarter, faster, cheaper way to do it?

4. If it's an unnecessary task, did we send strong justification up the chain of command requesting we stop doing it?

You'd be surprised where you'll find great time and money-saving ideas. Take security forces for example. Earlier this month, the base joined other Air Force installations to eliminate military vehicle decals on the windshields of our private vehicles. It simply made sense. The Air Force spent at least $750,000 a year just to print the stickers. That doesn't include the hundreds or thousands of man hours the base spent issuing the stickers and registering vehicles.

In the words of Maj. Gen. David Clary, ACC vice commander, "The Air Force has been strictly adhering to 100 percent credential checks at installation gates since 9/11, making the check of a vehicle decal unnecessary. Additionally, vehicle owners are more efficiently tracked through state license plates; not military decal numbers."

It's important we identify and refine the way we do business and eliminate unnecessary tasks before we "break the bank." It's past time for offices and shops across the base to take a long, hard look at everything they do and then find and eliminate the time and money wasting steps and procedures.

Still stuck? Ask your counterparts at other bases, especially those who earned accolades during their unit compliance inspections. Ask them what makes them so good, and feel free to use their good ideas as a benchmark.

Positive leadership and support is a must. If leaders approach this negatively, so will their troops, and then we're back to square one. We all have a vested interest in this, so let's make it count.

At first, it'll be frustrating and maybe a bit time consuming. However, we're quickly running out of options as we continue to lose people. We need to step up and make the tough calls and back them up 100 percent.

Because sometimes "no" is the right answer.