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Air Force leader praises Hill for Lean, AFSO 21 efforts

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- The special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for Air Force Smart Ops for the 21st Century, or AFSO 21, said during a late October visit here that Air Force leadership would embraced the Lean concept due in large part to the success of Air Force Materiel Command's air logistics centers.

Dr. Ron Ritter toured base and Ogden ALC facilities to review Hill's Lean processes and to help the AFSO 21 program become stronger.

AFSO 21 is a program which combines the best parts of several efficiency programs, including Lean and Six Sigma, to develop an Air Force-unique process improvement program. Hill currently has some 85 Lean projects ongoing and has earned numerous nationally-recognized awards for public-sector industrial process improvements.

Dr. Ritter took in some of the more visible programs, including the F-16 Common Configuration Implementation Program, which earned a Shingo award for its improved processes. He also visited the hydraulics, landing gear and F-22 facilities, and toured the munitions and missile storage area.

"I'm amazed at the level of knowledge and conviction of Air Force leadership across the board - Hill included," said Dr. Ritter.

The Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing recognizes businesses and researchers, both public and private. Specifically, they reward manufacturing practices in which Lean principles are used to improve processes -- translating into excellent customer service and products.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Sullivan, Ogden ALC commander, said it was a pleasure to host Dr. Ritter.

"It offered us the opportunity to show off some of the great things we're doing to help support the war fighter," General Sullivan said. "We're also pleased that he provided an Air Force perspective on AFSO 21. Especially the fact that what we're doing locally falls right in line with where the Air Force is headed regarding AFSO 21."

Some Air Force officials say the biggest challenge in the near future for AFSO 21 will be its ability to withstand the test of time. Will the Lean principles now traversing the ranks of Air Force leaders and supervisors be around five or six years down the road? According to Dr. Ritter, it's critical that the principles become a part of the Air Force culture and be applied at every level.

He said the key to success is first-line supervisors, who ensure younger troops are educated and encouraged to include such a mind set in everything they do.

"How do we remove barriers to these guys who are coming up with good ideas?" Dr. Ritter said. "They're seeing opportunities, and there are some clear things that are getting in their way. What we are trying to do is understand the view of the front line Airmen, who at the end of the day are the reason we are doing this."

During his visit, Dr. Ritter spoke with Airmen just returned from a deployment to get their take on AFSO 21 and how it can best be used.

"There is a lot of interest in bringing AFSO 21 to the desert," Dr. Ritter said. "That's why their input is so important to us. Everyone we send over there is in harm's way. Anything we can do to keep people home and out of danger is a good thing."

He sees a lot of promise based on his tour throughout the command - especially at the maintenance depots. The base, which currently ranks as Utah's largest single-site employer with some $2.9 billion in direct and indirect economic benefit to local communities, serves as a good example of what Lean initiatives - when applied correctly and consistently - can do.

"AFSO21 is critical to the Air Force in delivering sovereign options for the defense of the United States and its global interests," Dr. Ritter said. And Ogden ALC seems to be on the right track.

Added General Sullivan, "The ALCs are providing concrete examples of AFSO 21 success stories. That's important as leaders across the Air Force try to implement initiatives such as Lean."