March 1, 2008

More on AFSO 21

I enjoyed Adam Hebert’s “Issue Brief” on AFSO 21 in the January 2008 edition of Air Force Magazine [p. 20]. When addressing the difficulty in clearly explaining AFSO 21, his following comment particularly caught my attention: “Part of the problem is that AFSO 21 and its descriptions are laden with jargon and buzzwords. Lean. Six Sigma. Theory of constraints. Business process re-engineering. Just-in-time inventory. Blah, blah, blah.”

The tools mentioned above precede AFSO 21. They were important elements of the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement that was popular back in the 1980s and 1990s. We had great senior leader support in the early stages of TQM, but much of the support waned as time passed. A lot of what was going on then is what I think I see going on now in the Air Force. The real challenge is yet to be faced: What are AFSO 21 and the Air Force going to look like in years to come?

AFSO 21 requires “a passion for continuous improvement—a spirit and mind-set that we can always get better.” TQM had an identical requirement, but we made it too hard for our workforce to sustain that passion. I hope we’re not doing the same with AFSO 21. All the policies, procedures, objectives, tools, and guiding principles won’t amount to much if we have managers and leaders who get in the way of good ideas. Getting out of the way is often hard to do, especially in defense organizations where formal chains of command are required to maintain discipline and good order, but it can be done. If we can convince managers and leaders at all levels to find ways to make it easier for Air Force employees to surface their good ideas, we will see greater efficiency.

Speaking of making things easier, it seems to me that we are assuming that the tools we are using or are planning to use with AFSO 21 are easy to understand and apply. The tools are valuable, but we should not assume that it will be easy to, “through the application of process improvement tools and philosophies such as Lean, Theory of Constraints, Six Sigma, and Enterprise Value Stream Mapping … improve how we accomplish our daily tasks with the goal of making our processes more standardized, effective, and efficient,” as I’ve seen in AFSO 21 purpose statements. The use of the tools needs to be studied on a case-by-case basis. They may be very effective in certain organizations and environments, but they may cause problems and rejection in others where they may be interpreted as “Blah, blah, blah.”

Finally, I’m surprised to see how prevalent the Japanese influence still is. I thought that by now we would have changed that. I saw a statement that described a MAJCOM commander as “our sensei.” I bet that the vast majority of the workforce will more easily identify the individual as their commander than as their sensei. “Muda” is “waste.” I bet most employees would rather deal with “waste” than with “muda.” They understand the concrete goals of AFSO 21 such as “Deep-six stupid, unnecessary tasks” rather than trying to employ “kaisen” to bring about continuous improvements.

I am a sincere advocate of AFSO 21’s goal of greater efficiency. I wish the Air Force all the best in its efforts to sustain the momentum and bring further gains. As Mr. Hebert requested, I’ll stay tuned.

Col. Bill Friel,

USAF (Ret.)

Dayton, Ohio

Why Not Two Tankers

[In reference to “Editorial: Catastrophic Failure,” January, p. 2]: The underfunding of replacement aircraft to the tune of $20 billion per year threatens the ability of our Air Force to be effective for more than a short conflict. I see the estimate of need at $20 billion a year for six years, I see the request from Senators to continue C-17 production and F-22 production, I see an underused and languishing C-5 fleet hoping for modification, but I am not sure I see an actual effort to infuse $20 billion into USAF for needed combat capability.

USAF should not choose between the two tanker candidates, but let two contracts and fund both at the same level—the replacement rate if one contractor is chosen is a joke. Why make the tanker replacement a big development-dollar sink? Both vendors say that they have product being delivered. Get them to perform. Put [the tankers] on the ramp meeting this spec, or no money. USAF must fund whatever quantity of F-22s is required for NORAD/US Northern Command/ANG, period. Lockheed must be brought to the big table and required to perform on the C-5 modernization/re-engining. C-17 Total Force numbers need to be increased by about 100 aircraft. And don’t forget, the F-16 replacement bow wave is upon us, so Lockheed needs to get its act together for the F-35.

This doesn’t even talk to AWACS updates/replacement or ISR!

I am not in favor of “throwing” money, but we can’t just keep shoveling operations and maintenance money into old equipment and thinking we are going to be OK.

Maj. Gregory W. Gerdes,

USAF (Ret.)


Guam Encore

Your article in the January 2008 issue, “Guam, All Over Again[p. 28], brought back memories. In 1972, I was an electronics warfare officer (EWO) stationed with the 416th Bomb Wing (H) at Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, N.Y. We were a SAC B-52G wing. In May of that year, we were one of the first G wings taking B-52Gs to Guam to take part in the B-52 Arc Light mission. Up till then, all the B-52s flying Arc Light missions from Guam and Thailand were B-52Ds. My crew began flying Arc Light missions out of Guam in May of 1972 and was there to fly Linebacker II missions into Route Pack VI, the Hanoi and Haiphong [North Vietnam] area, in December of that year.

As I read the article on Guam, I saw the photo, on p. 30, of two B-52s, one taking off and one holding. I noticed the error in the caption of that photo identifying the two aircraft as B-52Ds. They are not B-52Ds, they are B-52Gs. The D has a black underside and tall black vertical tail. The G has a white underside (noticeable in the photo) and a camouflage, shorter vertical tail. I have over 4,000 flying hours in the B-52G and got pretty attached to it.

Maj. R.M. Saxton,

USAF (Ret.)

Katy, Tex.

Remembering Tet

[Concerning John Correll’s article “Tet,” January, p. 50] I am hardly the first to suggest that one must view our involvement in Vietnam in the context of the Cold War. Unfortunately, we did not empathize enough with the North Vietnamese perspective as a war of independence from colonial powers, including the United States. In hindsight, from the earliest involvement of the US, North Vietnam leaders would have likely viewed a long-term independent relationship with the US more favorably than one with the Soviet Union or China. US policy-makers were clouded in their strategy by the Cold War.

Regardless, a weak President as Commander in Chief who did not effectively articulate the political and military goals to the American people, and military leadership that failed to effectively articulate victory on the battlefield, resulted in political and public surrender. This must never happen again.

We must forever extol US military battlefield accomplishments during our military involvement in Vietnam. It is tragic that we allowed so many with unsourced or biased views to shape much of the public’s battlefield memory—at least to this point. I believe time will show how Vietnam was another line in the sand for democracy—one with a grotesque price in American lives.

Today, the Vietnamese people welcome our relationship independent of other nations—and the Cold War is over.

Bill Lawson

Livonia, Mich.

Wheelus Recalled

As one who pulled a great three-year tour there, I can attest to how wonderful an assignment that was [“The Years of Wheelus,” January, p. 62]. That is, until June 1967—the day the Six Day War broke out. As good as the article was, it didn’t mention the outstanding job done by the dependents who were there awaiting evacuation. Because we didn’t know what the Libyans were going to do in retaliation, the commander put an F-100 up at the front gate headed down the highway.

That was deterrent enough. Meanwhile, all the Libyans who worked on the base left, in the hope that we could not exist without their help. How big a mistake that was. The dependents on base handled all the chores in the dining hall. The children washed and mopped floors, hauled out trash, and were really magnificent in all they did without complaining—proving once again that American know-how and togetherness can accomplish a great many things. Not all dependents left for the States during project “Safe Haven.” Many opted to go to Spain and wait it out, my family being one of them. Ninety days later they came back to Wheelus, and we finished out our tour. Given the chance, we would have extended. But [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi saw to it that was not going to happen.

MSgt. Philip L. Harrison,

USAF (Ret.)

Fayetteville, N.C.

I would just like to correct the spelling of the original Arabic/Libyan name of Wheelus Air Base.

It is Millaha, rather than Mehalla, which comes from the Arabic word Millah meaning salt. The base is built on an old seawater salt marsh where salt used to be [extracted] and exported. Salt used to be a big export earner for Libya in the Ottoman Turkish period and up to the Italian period.

Sami Zaptia

Tripoli, Libya

Walter Boyne’s succinct article on Wheelus AB, Libya, certainly summed up the importance of the base and its controversial history in a fine manner. However, I wish to point out a minor discrepancy. Where he mentions SAC’s use of the base, he states that SAC deployed tankers there, including KB-50s. SAC never had the KB-50 in its inventory—it was used only by Tactical Air Command (TAC), US Air Forces Europe (USAFE), and Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). I checked through my complete set of unit histories for the 420th Air Refueling Squadron (the only KB-50 outfit in USAFE), and found little mention of Wheelus. The 420th did refuel fighter units en route to and from Wheelus for their training on the extensive ranges there, but seldom operated from the base.

One interesting exception, however, involved the hunt in 1960 for the aircrew remains from the B-24D Lady Be Good which had crashed in the southeastern Libyan desert on April 5, 1943. The aircraft crash site had been found only in 1958, with no evidence of the crew nearby. Sporadic efforts to find crew remains ensued over the next several years, and eventually all were found and identified. The KB-50’s contribution to this effort came in April 1960. USAFE directed that its 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing send four RF-101s to Wheelus, from where they would map the “Sand Sea” area around the crash site to aid in the search. Two 420th KB-50s air-refueled the six RF-101 recon missions flown that month, enabling them to provide photography to the ground search parties. Mission accomplished.

Lt. Col. John F. Bessette,

USAF (Ret.)

Historian, Tactical Tanker Association

Springfield, Va.

First Shirt

I retired as a first sergeant in October 1989, assigned to the 485th EIG at Griffiss AFB, N.Y. (The Air Force believes at the 30-year point in your career, your brain turns to mush and your experience diminishes.) I had the privilege of serving as a first shirt for nine years. I entered the first sergeant career field as an E-8 selectee assigned to the 96th OMS at Dyess AFB, Tex.

I wasn’t aware that in 2003, the Air Force turned the first sergeant job into a separate special duty assignment. The idea of keeping an individual out of his or her specialty for three to six years is crazy. Not only do they lose proficiency in their specialty, they also may not have the incentive to excel as a first sergeant.

I fully support returning the first sergeant job to an Air Force Specialty Code. The first sergeant position is 24/7 from the start. Within the first 90 days of my arrival at Dyess, I had to contend with a suicide, drug busts in the bomber and tanker branches, and an ORI. Without the knowledge of career first sergeants stationed at Dyess, I would have been totally lost. The first person supporting agencies on any base call is the first shirt. I had more than my share of 0 dark 30 phone calls.

Returning the first sergeant job to an Air Force Specialty Code will mean the first sergeant will have the incentive to learn and apply the necessary knowledge to excel as a first sergeant. He or she will not have to have the date they are returning to their old career field always on their minds. First sergeants once again will compete only with first sergeants for promotions, be able to rebuild that important support structure of career first shirts who had been there and done that. Three years isn’t long enough to gain the knowledge and experience needed to do the job.

CMSgt. Remo Moroni,

USAF (Ret.)

Bellmead, Tex.

The picture on p. 66 reminds me of a couple [of first sergeants] I met in the ’50s. I was assigned to the 17th Medical Group at K-9 in 1952-53. Every morning, a senior first sergeant was on the wooden platform in front of the tent with the questions, “Are you getting mail? Have you written your mother?” I wish I could remember his name because those questions have been part of my life since. The second was a sergeant with the 40th Medical Group at Smokey Hill. The day I turned 21, I asked for a Class A pass. He sat me down and gave me the father lecture on being an adult. That too has been a lasting influence. Whatever they do, they do it well.

Deloy Spencer

Pleasant View, Utah

Sandbox Sentries

In the November 2007 Air Force Magazine article “The Sandbox Sentries[p. 46], Marc Schanz shortchanged the 552nd ACW deployment time to Southwest Asia by about a decade. They actually first deployed in late 1979 for 24/7 monitoring of the Iran-Iraq war. Their last flight was about six months to a year prior to Desert Shield. One wonders if Saddam Hussein would have gone into Kuwait if he knew we were still in Saudi Arabia monitoring the high ground.

Maj. David N. Griffiths,

USAF (Ret.)

Yorktown, Va.

*Editor’s Note: We knew of the previous Saudi deployment, but the fact is, it was not a part of the 13-year continuous deployment.

Don’t Blame the Fighter Pilots

Regarding Mr. Breidenbach’s letter in the January 2008 magazine [“That Nuclear Safety Stand-down,” p. 4]: It is amazing how some still want to blame fighter pilots for everything under the sun that goes “wrong” in our Air Force. Having served on active duty from 1968 to 1991 and in civil service from 1992 to 2006, I can point to many factors that likely contributed to the apparent drop in standards—MAJCOMs losing assignment control over their people (resulting in constantly having to retrain people in special skills), placing ever younger officers and NCOs in charge of key operations without proper training/preparation, the holy grail of TQM that led us to scrap time-proven procedures in favor of “innovation.” Remember when the edict came out of the Pentagon that “regulations” had to go away and their replacements were not to be more than a few pages in length? The plan was for “local” people to write procedures that worked best for their “processes.” Unfortunately, many “old heads” said, “Don’t put too much in local OIs or directives because the IG will hammer hard if you don’t follow your own guidance.” How right the old heads were about the IG part, but how shortsighted for the long-term training and effectiveness of the upcoming Air Force generation.

I remember as a young airman when I asked a question about a procedure or rule the crusty old master sergeant said, “Go look it up,” and then would help me understand it once I found the guidance. By the 1990s most of the “procedural” directives were gone, so there was almost nowhere to go to “look it up.” So don’t blame the fighter pilot “mentality” for so much—there is plenty of fault to be found in other areas!

Maj. Rob Graves,

USAF (Ret.)

Aransas Pass, Tex.

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