I recently had the opportunity to observe a panel of three NCOs address Airmen at a Yokota Air Base First Four meeting. It was great to see the passion of these leaders as they answered questions, provided insight on being a front line supervisor, and explained what to expect as Airmen progress through the ranks. However, one discussion struck me like a ton of bricks: the hours an NCO works performing their daily duties, supporting the mission, and more importantly, taking care of Airmen. I listened to them describe a normal duty day for an NCO, which for them was showing up early, eating lunch at their desk and then staying late to perform mission related duties, administrative tasks, and training requirements, all while supporting private organization and wing functions…and a multitude of other tasks. This seems to be a common theme I hear from Airmen of all ranks; but why? Do we not trust leadership when they say stop doing outdated and non-value added duties? Is this self-induced because we feel we must complete every task to absolute perfection? From the discussions I have had with Airmen, I would say it is both.
In a speech at Ellsworth Air Force Base in November 2013, former Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh told a hangar full of Airmen "if it doesn't match common sense then I don't care what it says in the AFI, let's talk about it." This is a common message we have all heard from top Air Force leaders over the last several years. We have also seen official Air Force policy changes that reduced ancillary training requirements and additional duties. This was a noble effort and highlighted that our leaders are engaged and concerned about the impact of manning throughout the Air Force.
The current Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein highlighted some of his concerns when he rolled out his first focus area, “The Beating Heart of the Air Force…Squadrons!“ In this letter he stated “our squadron commanders, civilian leaders, superintendents, first sergeants, and Airmen feel first-hand the challenges associated with increased mandatory recurring training, a growing list of additional duties, and the challenge of a "do-it-your-self' world in place of Airmen who previously provided services for them.” This letter was pushed out to Airmen in August 2016, almost three years after General Welsh addressed many of the same concerns to the Airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base. I imagine that the perception to most Airmen is that these are just words because we truly haven’t seen any major changes. Why? It comes down to trust.
Back in 2013, General Welsh was aware that Airmen did not have trust in their leaders when he stated, “they don't think their supervisors or next level supervisors want them to make waves or (that) their commanders will listen to them." At the Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC), I saw firsthand what it’s like to have a commander make innovation and lean initiatives a priority, providing the trust needed to drive change. It was under the command of Major General David Allvin that I was fortunate to be a team lead for a project to review the requirements for eight additional duties. When all was said and done, we completely cut two programs and eliminated additional duty requirements for 47 people. This was just one of many success stories, not just due to the hard work of the team but also to a commander who was a driving force for the culture change needed to ensure the continued success of TACC.
While I believe leaders at all levels play a vital role in driving change, it is the Airmen closest to the mission that drive the innovation. As Thomas Jefferson put it in 1787, “question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” Like Jefferson, my hope is that we can regain this trust by empowering all Airmen to use this critical eye while performing their day-to-day duties and boldly evaluating what is necessary to perform the mission and take care of Airmen. We can either be restrained by a culture of compliance or go back to our roots to be an innovative Air Force, eliminating the inefficient and outdated processes and programs that burden our Airmen today. I was emboldened by Major General Allvin’s vision for a better organization and YOU have been empowered by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force to do the same. It is YOU, the Junior Airmen, NCOs, and CGOs that are the Subject Matter Experts and next generation of leaders that will drive the changes needed to ensure we remain the world’s greatest Air Force.
-Chief Master Sgt. Michael Molzhon, 374th Operations Group Superintendent