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Commander focus: Airmen, readiness, innovation

Col. Jeffrey Van Dootingh, 403rd Wing commander, renders a salute to Maj. Gen. Craig L. La Fave, 22nd Air Force commander, during the wing change of command ceremony June 9, 2019, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

Col. Jeffrey Van Dootingh, 403rd Wing commander, renders a salute to Maj. Gen. Craig L. La Fave, 22nd Air Force commander, during the wing change of command ceremony June 9, 2019, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

It’s been a month since Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh took command of the 403rd Wing, leading 1,500 personnel and the only Air Force Reserve C-130J Super Hercules equipped wing.

It’s not his first time on the Gulf Coast, having served here as the 403rd Operations Group commander from February 2012 to June 2013 responsible for the only weather reconnaissance mission in the Department of Defense as well as tactical airlift and airdrop.

He’s happy to be back, said the navigator with over 7,500 flight hours, who served as the director of staff at 22nd Air Force, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., prior to this assignment.

“It’s great to be back at the wing, to be able to get out and meet the Airmen, talk to them and hear their stories,” said Van Dootingh, a 1985 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate who joined the Air Force Reserve in 1991. “It’s so rewarding to see them in action accomplishing the mission.”

Under his leadership, the wing will continue to focus on readiness, taking care of Airmen and their families, and innovation also known as Continuous Process Improvement.

“When I took command of the wing, I promised Airmen I would give them time to focus on their job training and the mission, so they are ready,” he said. “This is the reason they joined the Air Force Reserve in the first place, to train, focus on their readiness, and to ensure they and their unit are ready for the fight. So, I want to provide our Airmen with the training, resources and time to concentrate on becoming technical experts in their career fields during their Unit Training Assemblies and Annual Tour.”

In addition to ensuring Airmen are ready, he emphasized the importance of taking care of Airmen and their families.

“Part of taking care of Airmen is providing them time to work on their Air Force specialty and resources to accomplish the mission, but it’s also Airmen taking the time to get to know one another,” said the commander. “We all need to take care of each other, foster a Wingman culture, and be there for each other to build the trust that’s vital for team cohesion”

It’s critical that the mission succeed, and accomplishing that task can be a challenge with constrained budgets and full-time manning shortages, issues that impact the Air Force and Air Force Reserve alike.

This is why the commander emphasizes the importance of being innovative and efficient, also known as Continuous Process Improvement. CPI is an Air Force program that finds way to maximize resources and increase efficiency in areas of people, time and money.

“We have more on our plate than what the budget or time allows us to accomplish,” he said. “So, wing leadership’s job is to prioritize what we can do. If Airmen innovate, we can get more done in that limited time if we identify ways to improve our processes to make us more efficient. I want to hear their ideas; I need to hear their ides – they are after all the experts.”

Airmen often innovate without even realizing it, said Van Dootingh.

“When someone hears of a better way of doing something and says, ‘Hey, I am going to do it that way,’ well that’s CPI,” he said. “It doesn’t always have to be a formal event that can take a few days, but can be as simple as calling someone from another wing to ask them how they tackled an issue. CPI is one way to help Airmen through the process of how do I do my job quicker, better, more efficient and cost effective.”

Whether it’s providing combat ready forces to combatant commanders or weather reconnaissance capability to the nation, every Airman, regardless of rank, position or experience, has a role to play in making the wing successful, said the commander.

“We all contribute to the mission,” he said. “This is an outstanding wing, and I’m excited to be here. It’s an honor to be your commander, and I look forward to working with all of you.”