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People's willingness to change impresses AFMC commander

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFMCNS) -- When then-Lieutenant Bruce Carlson was stationed in Thailand in the 1970s, every day he would walk from his hooch to the post office, pass an airman or sergeant and ask, "Don't you salute lieutenants?"

Today, the commander of Air Force Materiel Command doesn't see any evidence that company-grade officers have to ask that question.

"The quality of the people in the Air Force today is light-years ahead of what it was three decades ago, and that goes for military and civilian," said General Carlson. "We didn't have civilians over there at that time, but as I look around the Air Force, the quality is just orders of magnitude better than it was."

And it is the people of the Air Force, specifically, the people of AFMC, he is relying on to accomplish the command's mission in what is shaping up to be a challenging 2006.

For 34 years, the general served outside the command and fell into the pool of people who perceived AFMC as difficult to work with - an image AFMC commanders have combated for years.

But this commander said soon after taking the reigns, he realized his understanding and perception of AFMC was incomplete.

"If we don't respond, it's because we don't have the resources," he said. "If we're late, it's because we've found something that we think needs to be fixed for the protection of our customers."

"I think the biggest thing that we can do (to improve our image), which is something that we have already started to do, and we're doing very very well at, is delivering our products on time, operating the way we've promised, and delivering products and capabilities on or under cost."

The second impressive area was people's willingness to change, he said. "I've been very very impressed by people's willingness to say, 'Okay, let's give it a shot. Let's go see what we can do,'" he said, "and that's the attitude it's going to take to sustain AFMC's success and keep improving on what we do for the Air Force."

Looking ahead, the general admits mission accomplishment is not going to be easy. AFMC must get used to working on a smaller budget and find more efficient ways to get the job done, General Carlson said.

He predicts the coming year to be much like 2005, with the tightening of the budget belt really being felt in 2007.

"This is sort of an exercise in losing weight," he said. His point is most people have tried shedding extra pounds, which has proven difficult, but it can be done.

A former fighter pilot, he has his radar locked onto some popular buzz words and phrases he believes should guide AFMC in overcoming challenges and achieving the mission of delivering products on time and on cost to warfighting customers. At every opportunity, he emphasizes "continuous process improvement," "efficiency" and "effectiveness."

"That's how we kill bad guys, by being effective," he said.

General Carlson is not looking to pull the trigger on making significant changes just yet, but he does see room for improvement.

"Specifically, I don't want to say yet," he said. "I've only been here for four and a half months, and I don't want to start directing things without taking a good, hard look at them, but I do think there are some efficiency things that we can do that won't affect the number of bases or anything like that. It would give some organizations within the command better visibility in the budget process, in the requirements process and so on."

A significant issue he will elaborate on though is the new National Security Personnel System.

With any new system, there is a period of growth and adjustment, and this one will be no different, he said. He insists that if people "get smart on it, learn how to operate it, then the growing and adjustment period will be shorter.

"I think NSPS is the system for this command," he said. "We have hardworking, bright, energetic civilians, and they are going to thrive in NSPS."

The general, coming off more than three years commanding the war-fighting 8th Air Force, touched on AFMC's warfighting role in 2006.

In addition to the fact AFMC today has people deployed in every area of responsibility, he said, the warfighter is feeling the command's impact through the laboratories developing needed technologies, centers acquiring and managing weapon systems and depots supporting those systems.

The general praised AFMC people for not only accomplishing the mission but doing it during what's been a difficult time period.

"Nothing short of remarkable," he said. "We've not only figured out how to get better, we've figured out how to get better while we're actively engaged in a shooting war."

Our challenge now is to take what has been learned and put it into an "enterprise-wide philosophy," he said.

For instance, the general believes AFMC is set up to lead the implementation of Lean across the Air Force.

Lean, in layman's terms, is a program designed to eliminate waste in any process. Command air logistics centers have touted this program in helping to decrease the time it takes to service weapon systems and get them back to the warfighter.

If he can implement Lean fully across AFMC, he said, because of AFMC's impact, the rest of the Air Force "will come along."

General Carlson said he did not grow up with aspirations to lead a major command. He signed up to be a fighter pilot, but regardless of personal aspirations, he has taken his new job to heart.

Unzipping a pocket on his flight suit, he pulled out his commander's coin and read the inscription: leading edge technology, war-winning systems, world-class sustainment.

"I think they are all within our grasp," he said. "The time is right. The combination of people is here. I think we can make all that happen, so I'm just very excited about the future. What a great time to be in AFMC."