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Empowered Airmen accelerate change across Air Force

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nicolas Z. Erwin
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Innovation and a forward-looking mindset have long been key aspects of Air Force culture. Today, Airmen worldwide continue to exemplify these traits as they find innovative ways to implement new programs and processes to accelerate change in support of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. 's “Accelerate Change or Lose” strategic approach and accompanying Action Orders.

The action orders assist future planning efforts and add detail and clarity to Brown’s call for Airmen to push for accelerated change in modernizing the Total Force. The Action Orders are - Action Order A, Airmen; Action Order B, Bureaucracy; Action Order C, Competition; and Action Order D, Design Implementation.

“My strategic approach of ‘Accelerate Change or Lose’ explains the ‘why’,” Brown said in December when he released the Action Orders. “It is all of us ... our talented Airmen … that are key to cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, recognizing and understanding our competition, and thinking of creative ways we can reshape the design of our Air Force.”

In response to Brown’s initiative, Airmen were empowered to develop improvements in how the Air Force does business and prepares for the challenges facing the service and the nation in the future. There are multiple examples of Airmen demonstrating innovation and initiative towards this end across the service.

Action Order A - Airmen

Prompted by Action Order A, Air Education and Training Command launched the Air Force Rated Diversity Improvement Strategy in March to recruit and retain the Air Force’s best talent in the rated career fields. Also in support of this action, HAF/A1 (Manpower, Personnel and Service) established the Air Force’s Foundational Competencies and transformed the Airman Comprehensive Assessment in February to improve performance feedback focused on ten Airmen Leadership Qualities.

“Our leaders have a responsibility to Airmen and their families to provide an environment and community where they can reach their full potential,” Brown said. “Leaders​ ​​must provide clear guidance so our Airmen are resilient, able to make decisions at the lowest levels, and can execute our mission. That starts with recruiting the best, developing the best, and then retaining the best.”

In another example, two Airmen at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, took their own initiative to help improve Airmen development. First Lt. Kristen Havens, a 333rd Training Squadron instructor, and Maj. Venise Hunter, 333rd TRS Director of Operations, transformed how all new cyber warfare officers learn and train by eliminating multiple choice exams and standardized AETC progress checks. Acting only on their commander’s intent, they pressed ahead with curriculum changes for Undergraduate Cyber Warfare Training to require students to demonstrate proficiency through China-focused training missions and perform rigorous oral exams. According to 81st Training Wing officials, the changes ensure Air and Space Force cyber warfare operations officers now graduate with institutionalized operational behaviors, greater awareness of national threats, and a foundation of competitive thinking.

Additionally, the Air Force launched another Airmen-inspired and quality of life initiative in March known as the Exceptional Family Member Program Family Vector. This effort aims to better connect Airmen and families with the resources they need through Department of the Air Force Child and Youth websites.

“Military service demands exceptional resiliency from our people and families,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass. “It is critical that we continue to build a culture of support and have the programs available to help wherever possible.”

Action Order B - Bureaucracy

One important aspect of the Action Orders is giving Airmen resources they need and developing leaders to attract and retain the most capable and lethal Airmen for the Air Force. Action Order B is designed to enable decisions that expedite the mission, making the Air Force more effective and efficient.

“I really hate bureaucracy,” Brown said during a fireside chat at the virtual 2021 Air Force Association Aerospace Warfare Symposium. “Knowing that something can be improved, but the amount of work to change it … it really doesn’t work for me. I want to cut through processes that add time and/or layers, but don’t add much value.”

Acting on Brown’s intent, Airmen across the Air Force used the Department of the Air Force’s Enterprise Decision Rights Process Approach to refine more than 800 distinct work streams into approximately 226 processes instead. Airmen will use this approach to refine other strategic and operational activities for the upcoming program objective development cycle. Under Action Order B, Airmen are encouraged to challenge the status quo to improve the Air Force’s decision-making timelines and processes.

In another example, two Airmen assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, took the initiative to eliminate hard-copy forms and old school data entry processes to improve availability of aircraft readiness data. Tech. Sgt. Michael Heasley and Senior Airman Declan Coppernoll developed a virtual aircraft 781-series form eliminating the requirement for aircrew and maintenance personnel to physically complete a paper form regarding KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft status. As a result, wing officials said the virtual form provides real-time situational awareness of aircraft readiness to fleet health managers and mission tasking authorities regardless of aircraft location, and in direct support of Agile Combat Employment concepts. It also resulted in savings of $120K and 2.5K labor hours annually for the wing.

Action Order C - Competition

Since releasing “Accelerate, Change or Lose” in August, Brown has repeatedly emphasized all Airmen must understand the ambitions of competitors and how they might conduct future warfare. In line with Action Order C – Competition, the Headquarters Air Force’s Strategic Assessment Team recently hosted a competition-focused workshop attended by Airmen and interested parties from various think tanks and academia. The findings from this workshop will help tailor the service’s response to adversaries.

In addition to the need to accelerate understanding of the nation’s competitors, Action Order C also calls on Airmen to accrue warfighting advantages to the U.S., its allies, and partners; enhance collective deterrence credibility; and drive competition to areas of U.S. advantage and competitors’ weakness. Airmen at Air University’s Chief Master Sergeant Leadership Academy at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, took this to heart when they designed a Command Senior Enlisted Leadership course in collaboration with their Estonian military counterparts during a three-day virtual planning workshop April 6-8 with the Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia. The course, which is scheduled for September 2021, will help senior enlisted leaders gain a greater understanding of the needs of all nations bordering the Baltic Sea, and how the U.S. and allies can work to amplify their collective strengths against competition in the region.

In another example, Airmen deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, also took initiative to close a training gap and demonstrate an innovative capability that makes the Air Force more competitive. Lt. Col. David Gunter, 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, and his squadron formed a joint operations and maintenance team that planned and conducted an F-15E Strike Eagle hot pit refueling and integrated combat turn at another location in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. This entailed sending required maintenance equipment and personnel to the downrange location, conducting the hot pits and integrated combat turns for the fighter aircraft, and then returning everyone and their equipment to Al Dhafra AB the same day.

Action Order D – Design Implementation

Action Order D highlights the need to “make force structure decisions … and amend force planning processes to create the fiscal flexibility required to design and field the future force we need.” This entails determining what the Air Force will need in the future and then making decisions supporting that vision.

Toward that end, Airmen assigned to HAF in AF/A5 (Strategy, Integration, and Requirements), AF/A8 (Plans and Programs), and AF/A9 (Studies, Analyses and Assessments) recently implemented three ‘deep dive planning processes’ to aid the Air Staff in establishing resource planning priorities based on mission capabilities instead of specific aircraft, or platforms. During these deep dives, teams prioritized current and future Air Force programs focused on capabilities such as penetrating and non-penetrating forces, mobility forces, and the advanced battle management system.

In another example, the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, exercised the force design needed for the future by rapidly developing and executing a four-day Agile Combat Employment exercise in the desert of western Utah. According to wing officials, Airmen from nine squadrons and twenty different functional areas developed the exercise on their own initiative and rapidly set up a contingency location in only a couple hours with nothing but a runway and a water source. During the exercise, the Airmen recovered fighter aircraft, conducted integrated combat tums, refueled, reloaded, retargeted, and launched the aircraft back into the simulated fight. The exercise trained and validated 65 multi-capable Airmen from diverse backgrounds and demonstrated the agile combat employment the Air Force will need to succeed in a future fight.

Empowered Airmen Accelerate Change

According to Brown, investing in and empowering Airmen means they will not only imagine a better future for the Air Force, but they will be the ones to lead and propel the service toward the future force the nation needs. Ultimately, the four Action Orders serve to provide bookends that provide Airmen with a focus on accelerating change and ensuring the service can fulfill its mission to fly, fight, and win and deliver Airpower anytime, anywhere.

“Every Airman is directly responsible for acquiring, delivering, supporting, launching and driving Airpower,” Brown said. “Airpower is the culmination of the diverse specialties, expertise and capabilities that make up our Air Force. Without it, all those planes and vehicles on the flight line would just be static displays. It’s on all of us to accelerate change and make progress together.”

Editor’s Note: Know an empowered Airman who is accelerating change? We want to tell your story! Send inputs to your local PA office along with how that Airman is making a difference and implementing the Air Force’s action orders. Submissions may be highlighted in our ‘Empowered Airmen’ series.