Why ask what went wrong?

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (ACCNS) -- I enlisted in the Air Force as a young eager jet engine technician and remember hearing the comment "in aircraft maintenance, you have to have tough skin." I wasn't sure why that comment was made, but it didn't take me long to figure it out. 

A hundred maintenance actions were done correctly, but we spent a huge amount of time talking about the one maintenance action that went wrong. Today, things have not changed. 

At least half of my career has been in aircraft maintenance supervision and every day we scrub maintenance actions to figure out the "whys." Why wasn't that aircraft repaired on time, why the late take off, what happened on the ground abort and so on. These hard looks just scratch the surface. We have numerous agencies that do in-depth inspections and report what they find. These include command level operational readiness, unit compliance, logistics standardization and evaluation team inspections and even our own local quality assurance evaluations. Further, we have to meet certain Air Combat Command standards such as; Fully Mission Capable Rate, eight-hour fix rate and numerous other aircraft metrics. I realize aircraft maintenance is not unique; each of your organizations has similar inspections and metrics you have to meet and answer. Why are we so tough on ourselves in asking these questions? 

In our business, as with most Air Force organizations, what we do is extremely dangerous and people's lives depend on it. We are at war. Each of us signed up to defend this country and its freedoms knowing full well the ultimate sacrifice may be paid in order to protect our nation. This quote is appropriate: "amateurs practice to get it right, professionals practice so they can't get it wrong." The reason we are so tough on ourselves is so we do not get it wrong ... it has to be that way. There is no room for error. 

I know this is heavy stuff and easy to get caught up with negatives, but I challenge you to recognize what we do right. We are the most lethal Air Force in the world. Just look back at Operation Desert Storm. During the Gulf War, we delivered less tonnage of munitions than in any other war in history. Sortie rates and bomb tonnage statistics confirm this. The Air Force's tonnage expenditure in the Gulf War was only 11 percent of that expended against Japan (537,000 tons), less than 4 percent of that expended against Nazi Germany (91,613,000 tons), and less than 1 percent of the tonnage dropped in Southeast Asia. 

In measures of tonnage dropped per month, the Gulf air war was significantly below Vietnam, and only 85 percent of World War II. Yet it was more decisive in what it achieved than any previous war. After a 38-day air campaign, the ground offensive began with allied forces sweeping through Iraqi defenses. The Iraqi army was crushed after a mere 100 hours due mainly to the relentless bombing from the Air Force. Our success did not stop there. We moved on to Operations Desert Shield, Provide Comfort, Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Once again the Air Force performed flawlessly and the 366th Fighter Wing played a significant role in those campaigns and will continue making this world a safer place. I truly believe it was our training and years of asking those tough questions that ensured our success. 

Air Combat Command had the safest flying year in the command's history. This is amazing, considering we are in the middle of a huge force reduction and tasked with numerous deployments. 

I personally feel there are huge challenges ahead as we go through this turbulent time in the Air Force. It will be imperative for leadership to ask the tough questions of what went wrong, not to humiliate or belittle someone, but to identify what procedural steps are defective and motivate Airman to fix the process. Realize that everyone's hard work does get recognized through other channels, but on a daily basis supervision focuses on the negative. Develop that tough skin because lives depend on us and we cannot get it wrong.