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NEWS | May 15, 2013

When in doubt, innovate!

By Col. Albert Miller 437th Airlift Wing vice commander

"The story of the Air Force is a story of innovation. Airmen, using their unique perspective, have long stood for and pioneered innovative ways to win the fight while shaping the future." -Gen. Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff, USAF

It is no secret we are in the midst of a challenging fiscal environment. Recent manning reductions, and now the impacts of sequestration are combining to challenge our abilities to accomplish the mission, maintain readiness and care for our Airmen and their families. Despite the situation, we endure and continue to provide safe, precise and reliable world-wide airlift. We are the team our nation depends upon during the toughest times. We have never, and will never, let them down. We will continue to succeed despite harsh fiscal realities and manning constraints because Airmen across Team Charleston are innovators.

In April, one only needed to look to the sky to see Team Charleston innovation in action. On the morning of April 10, 2013, 13 airdrop rigged C-17s departed Joint Base Charleston in a Large Force Exercise dubbed "Exercise Furious Moose." Aircrews from the 437th Airlift Wing and 315th Airlift Wing flew in tight formation to the drop zone at North Auxiliary Airfield; each dropped their cargo in a text book display of "mass on DZ."

Training did not stop there. The formation broke into separate elements to accomplish additional training, including formation aerial refueling and personnel airdrop at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., and Moody AFB, Ga. After completing their events, several of the elements rejoined as a larger formation and landed safely at JB Charleston. This was an invaluable training opportunity for our aircrew, maintenance and several other support agencies, and it was also innovative.

Launching 13 C-17s for a large formation airdrop costs a significant amount of time and money. The 437th and 315th maintenance crews and aerial port personnel spent hundreds of man-hours preparing for this exercise. Our flight kitchen prepared meals for 13 aircrews. The 628th Air Base Wing supported with logistical and security support. Several other agencies also contributed to this massive team effort.

With everything factored in (fuel, manpower costs, maintenance, etc.) it costs approximately $20,000 an hour to fly a C-17. Flying is expensive! In an environment of tight fiscal constraints, there was significant pressure to cancel or delay Exercise Furious Moose. Some had legitimate concerns as to whether this was the best use of the limited funding we have for flying hours, especially following the announcement of reduced flying training for some fighter units.

At the end of the day, however, Exercise Furious Moose actually saved the Air Force time and money.

How? The answer is efficiency. First, the exercise was conceptualized by the maintenance group to practice their generation skills and processes. The operations group quickly seized the opportunity when they heard there would be a large number of aircraft all ready to fly at the same time - all the aircraft that were generated flew, wasting none of the maintenance groups' hard efforts.

Second, we found users who could benefit from the platforms created by this exercise, eliminating their need to seek out other limited resources. Our aircrews logged more than 600 flying training events during only 13 sorties. To accomplish the same number of events, we would have had to fly twice as many local sorties. During the days leading up to the exercise, while the maintenance groups honed their generation skills, we did not fly local training missions - that saved money. Instead our aircrews accomplished ground training hosted by our Aircrew Flight Equipment, Tactics, Intel and L3. We maximized our aircrew availability to accomplish these mandatory training events, reducing the number of classes required for the year, and saved more money.

Tanker availability was an important part of the equation. Air Force tanker flying hours have been cut, a direct casualty of sequestration. There are simply fewer tankers to train with. We needed a force multiplier. Normally, a single C-17 training sortie with air refueling, provides training to only one C-17, a 1:1 training ratio. During formation refueling, three aircrews receive training using one tanker, a 3:1 ratio! Bottom line: we trained more people, more effectively, more efficiently, and saved time and money.

Innovation like this will help us through these difficult times. We will continue to leverage our innovative culture to meet the challenges ahead of us. Our leadership recognizes this. Gen. Larry Spencer, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, just launched the "Airmen Powered by Innovation" campaign, a call for ideas on how we can cut costs and better fly, fight, and win. During the month of May you should submit your innovative ideas to their website, which will be linked to the AF Portal and AF Public site.

Every idea will be answered and seriously considered. Visit the Air Force Portal site for more information. I challenge every member of Team Charleston to look around their workplaces, identify areas where we can save money, remove non-value added processes, and when in doubt, innovate! I know we will not only weather these tough times, we will excel and be stronger for the experience.