We can’t afford to leave well enough alone

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Lee A. Comerford
  • 1st Special Operations Force Support Squadron Commander
For those of us “seasoned” enough to remember a time in the Air Force of seemingly endless streams of money, manpower and resources, today’s budgetary constraints have definitely brought about paradigm-shifting realities. I remember entering the Air Force in 1995 and many were still high-fiving the successes of Desert Storm while manned and fiscally resourced at plush Cold War levels. Simply put, life was pretty good at “Anywhere” Air Force Base.

However, the post 9-11 realities of a decade and a half of ceaseless combat operations across multiple theaters have brought about a significant change to the way things used to be. With an ever-increasing operation tempo combined with historically low manning levels – current Air Force Active Duty end-strength is nearing the same levels as seen in 1947, a call to examine every process we undertake is a must. From the flightline to the flight kitchen, there is no doubt everyone plays a vital role in the 1st Special Operations Wing mission, and continuous process improvement is a critical component in our ability to provide combat ready forces around the globe.

I encourage you to stop for a minute and think about your job, your section, your unit and especially the processes you do everyday without batting an eye. Are you doing a task simply because it’s the way your supervisor learned it and passed on to you or because it’s the way your section has always completed it? If so, every nuance of that task is most likely rooted in decades of old thinking from a time of significantly higher manning or funding levels and those tasks are ripe for process improvement. From the policy letter dated pre-MTV to the local operating instructions released around the same time as the first iPhone, taking a hard look at the processes and the rules set that govern them can provide significant results. These results may not show up in any unit’s bottom line or in the form of an end of year employee bonus, but the ability to return time back to Airmen and their families is an invaluable form of compensation. From a section taking 30 minutes to conduct a simple brainstorming session to a multi-day process improvement event, the ability to affect change and improve the overall operational effectiveness of the 1st SOW is easier than you think! Not only is it easy, but I bet the best ideas won’t come from anyone whose picture is hanging on the wall in your unit’s front office. The Hurlburt Welcome Center is a prime example of innovative process improvement which transformed in-processing operations from multiple mass briefings to a single reception point for all inbound functions. In-processing time is now completed in less than 60 minutes and as a result returns 3,000 man-hours back to our Airmen, annually. Empowering the fresh eyes, innovative ideas and unique skill sets of our newest Airmen will provide a groundswell of potential process improvement initiatives and ultimately enhance the combat effectiveness and efficiency of the 1 SOW.

In conclusion, when you feel as if there is no chance any part of your processes can be improved, I challenge you with the old saying, “times change and time changes things.” Essentially, process improvement opportunities will certainly arise as the Air Force continues to drive personnel, funding and resource variations into our daily operations. With these times of change, we must continually adapt and improve our processes if we hope to maintain mission effectiveness. Ultimately, we can’t afford to leave well enough alone.

For more information on how to best utilize continuous process improvement in your unit, I encourage you to contact the Manpower Office at 884-7323.