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AFMC commander talks warfighter input, tactical refinements after AOR trip
Gen. Donald Hoffman, Air Force Materiel Command commander, receives a briefing about the Joint Direct Attack Munition tailkit in the generalized repair facility of a base in Southwest Asia March 16, 2012. This stop was part of a trip through the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility to acquire feedback directly from warfighters to determine how AFMC can better accomplish its supply and sustainment operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)
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AFMC commander talks warfighter input, tactical refinements after AOR trip

Posted 4/2/2012   Updated 4/2/2012 Email story   Print story


special Interview with Gen. Donald Hoffman, Air Force Materiel Command commander
By Monica D. Morales, AFMC Public Affairs

4/2/2012 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Positive warfighter feedback and a shorter to-do list were among the predominant characteristics of a recent trip made by command senior leaders to the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility, said Gen. Donald Hoffman during a March 26 interview.

"I can't say that I got any negative feedback about AFMC overall," the commander of Air Force Materiel Command said.

From his office within the AFMC headquarters building, General Hoffman recounted the warfighter insights and lessons learned that he and a team of AFMC senior leaders noted during a six-day trip in mid-March that took them to large bases in three different countries. It included stops in Southwest Asia and the Kyrgyz Republic.

This annual trip is designed for the command's leaders to acquire feedback directly from warfighters to determine how the command can better accomplish its supply and sustainment operations.

General Hoffman once again emphasized the importance of the command's role in keeping warfighters equipped with the support needed to continue their operations, including the personal dedication to work warfighters' problems first before tackling routine matters. This dedication from the command is critical to warfighters, he said, given the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operational tempo in theater.

"If we have any role to play in getting answers or solutions to the deployed warfighters, we need to have a mechanism that wraps around their schedule, not ours," General Hoffman said.

Much like last year's trip, this year's also included a view through the lens of General Hoffman's role as the Air Force's lead integrator for agile combat support. As such, he bears responsibility for an extended portfolio that includes base operations support and training, in addition to the traditional AFMC missions of research, acquisition, test and sustainment.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: What kind of feedback did you receive from AFMC's warfighter customers in the AOR?

I received overwhelmingly positive feedback. There was generalized feedback about, of course, supplies and spares taking days to get there, but [these locations] are days away. Even if the parts are readily available and get on the next plane, it is still going to take days to get there to some of these remote locations.

Q: What is AFMC doing well to support the warfighter?

The warfighters really appreciate the Global Logistics Support Center's 24/7 on-call staffing elements. Whether it's a wide-bodied mobility aircraft, a fighter, or a bomber aircraft, there's always a voice at the other end of the line 24/7 to take that call and then work the problem.

This operates very similarly to the Verizon network commercial. The people that make calls don't care about the network that's behind it, represented by the guy wearing black-framed glasses with an army of people behind him. That networked army of people represents AFMC's job, to have that back-stopping workforce there that delivers on what they need. The warfighters' job is to identify and quantify the need correctly -- and sometimes they don't characterize the need quite right, and that creates confusion downstream. If the warfighters, no-kidding, identify their bona fide need, our job is to grab that and run with it to make that happen. They were very satisfied with that.

In terms of on-site engineering support, we have a couple of lieutenants over there from the air logistics centers that do engineering dispositions on site. So, as they work on an aircraft and they find holes that are too big or a small crack or some other thing not covered by the technical order guidance, you have to get an engineering assessment of that. And so, for the relatively minor ones, you don't want that disappearing in the system and coming back a week later -- you want the solution while the airplane is opened up, so it can be on the schedule the next day.

These engineers are empowered to make some decisions on their own. If it exceeds their knowledge and authority, they know exactly who to call back home -- even on weekends and evenings -- and fax or send pictures to describe the problem. Then they get an improved engineering solution to immediately continue on with repair of that aircraft.

This has been going on for a couple of years. They love it. Those engineers are in centralized locations over in the theater, and there's a hunger for them to be in even more remote sites. But it's working pretty well right now where they are. They do travel if necessary, and they do remotely address problems, even if they are not directly on site.

Q: How long is the to-do list you came back with?

A: The to-do list for this trip was much shorter, partly because this was a much shorter trip. We made it to three locations and they were relatively large bases. We did come back with some small tactical things to further examine.

Some things are under the purview of AFMC, some things are under the purview of agile combat support lead integrator, and some are just items we need to coordinate with others to get to the ground truth of what's happening. This is not only for our understanding, but also sometimes there's just a lack of communication. The folks over there don't know that their chain of command has made a decision about how or where something gets repaired, and they don't understand the logic behind it. Sometimes it's just a communication challenge.

Q: What message(s) did you deliver to our customers there?

A: During an All Call and meetings over breakfasts and lunches with Airmen, we talk about what's going on in D.C. Deployed Airmen are very focused on what's going on there, so I talk about the big picture -- where we are in the national debt and deficit, that it's an election year, and how the debate in Washington is shaping solutions to that major problem. We already had the first installment of the Budget Control Act -- $487 billion for the Department of Defense -- and unless Congress crafts some path forward, there will be additional cuts.

So I put that in perspective to them, but always closing on the note that they don't have to worry about that. That's us on the cell phone in the background providing that network. Their job is just to do their deployed tasks, and ask for help when they need it. To some audiences that were AFMC unique, I talked about the five-center reorganization -- where we stand on that, our timing and path forward.

Q: How many AFMC people were you able to talk to, and what were their jobs?

A: I met with dozens of AFMC people at each location, and they have a variety of jobs. I mentioned the engineers, there were also supply chain specialists and maintainers. There are AFMC Airmen there doing public affairs; they are flying; doing civil engineering and communication -- the entire spectrum of work.

Q: Is there any specific message you would like to share with the command regarding this trip?

A: As we sit here and grind through our daily routines, it's easy to forget about the sacrifices our deployed members and their families are making under difficult conditions. How they respond to that and how they represent America over there is very uplifting, and it really recharges my batteries every time I go there. For those of us back home, our number one priority remains the same ... support the warfighter.

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