Continuous improvement: lifeblood of our Air Force

by Brig. Gen. C.K. Hyde
86th Airlift Wing commander

Continuous improvement is life or death in war fighting. History is full of examples of those who prepared for the last war and were defeated by foes who learned from earlier defeats or developed better ways to fight.

Our Air Force has a legacy of war-fighting innovation. In just more than 65 years, we have turned air power theory into reality with a force that can track, target and hold enemy capabilities at risk around the globe. From nuclear deterrence to strategic mobility and operational maneuver, our Air Force is the dominant air, space and cyber power on the planet. We revolutionized command and control, developed expeditionary concepts, and leveraged technology to deliver precision World War II bomber and airdrop crews could only imagine.

Our legacy of continuous improvement is strong, but it is not enough. With a smaller force and an uncertain fiscal environment, we must continue to move forward. To ensure we allocate maximum resources to our core war-fighting competencies, we must use the creativity that made us the world’s best operational Air Force to deliver innovation at our installations and in our major support functions. Years of abundant resources and a focus on “mission at any cost” have left us with effective processes that lack agility to adapt to new enemies or constrained resources.

For the 86th Airlift Wing to achieve its full potential, we must focus on our fifth priority — eliminate non-value added activities in our major processes. This priority supports our mission and other four priorities. It is not about doing more with less; it is about eliminating waste and things that do not contribute to mission success. As part of our strategic plan, we identified seven major processes, which directly impact our combat airlift and installation missions, for improvement using Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century tools. We have completed three events this year and are on schedule to finish all of them by this fall.

Our first project was directed by Headquarters Air Force, and we used it to tune up our “lean” machine. Capt. Luis Rosado-Medina, 86th Logistics Readiness Group, and Master Sgt. Shannon Huffman, 86th Material Maintenance Squadron, developed a process, the “Unit Supply Efficiency System,” to redistribute excess supplies among units. The program identified $200,000 in surplus assets and saved $34,000 in supply costs in one month. Even better, it’s a repeatable process that will go live twice a year for a spring and fall “cleaning” and redistribution.

The second project tackled out-processing. A previous AFSO21 event reduced Ramstein in-processing time from two to three weeks to three days. Leveraging RIP success, Capt. Chris Dillard and Tara Mercado, 86th Force Support Squadron members, led a team, which revamped Ramstein out-processing in time for summer PCS season. The ROP is a two-phased approach, which brings base agencies to members at two key points in the PCS process, instead of members traveling to myriad agencies over multiple days, weeks and months. The first ROP line was March 6, and the feedback was excellent! We’ve already made changes to fine tune the process. The ROP line is held every Wednesday, and start time for Phase I (pre-orders) is 12:30 p.m.; Phase II (post-orders) is 8:30 a.m — continuous improvement in action!

In our third project this year, Senior Master Sgt. Gabriel Nerf, 86th Maintenance Squadron, led a maintenance group team that streamlined our aircraft wash and letter check (heavy maintenance) processes. They reduced the time for a “C Check” from 17 to 12 days, which, over a three-year period, will increase C-130J availability by 70 days, providing an additional 1,680 mission capable aircraft hours. Further savings will be realized when the team’s initiatives are incorporated into other inspections.

WELL DONE to the 86th Airlift Wing Airmen who have embraced and continued the rich heritage of innovation in our Air Force.

Your initial successes have generated significant improvement and excitement for our follow-on events: sponsorship (March), mission generation (April), individual equipment acquisition (May), Exceptional Family Member Program processing (June) and staffing and admin (summer/fall).

The success of our wing and our Air Force depends on creative Airmen and continuous improvement. We face thinking and adaptive enemies, and we must be willing to attack the status quo and deliver improvement across all of our mission areas — our success in future conflicts depends on it. Keep up the great work!