Learning to hit the curve balls

  • Published
  • By Col. Frank L Amodeo
  • 403rd Wing
In January 2013 I had been back from Kabul, Afghanistan for three months, settling back into my job at the U.S. Transportation Command where I provided day-to-day execution and oversight of transportation missions worldwide. At that point I never could have imagined moving to the beautiful Gulf Coast and working with our great team at Keesler Air Force Base. Think back to where you were in January 2013. Did the past year unfold as you thought it would? Even with sound assumptions and solid planning, I am sure you can recall several curve balls that came your way throughout the year. How did you adapt to the uncertainties? What helped sustain you, your family, and your unit? Was it your choices in response to the unexpected situations that shaped the outcome?

We don't know all the challenges we will face this year, but what we do know is the Air Force will have to deal with harsh budget realities that will impact us in many ways.

It will take time for our Air Force to harvest savings from force structure changes since personnel and inventories can't be immediately cut. Modernization efforts in a platform-based (For example, F-35, KC-46A and Long Range Strike Bomber) service have a 10 to 15 year horizon from initial investment to return on those investments. The only other area where the Air Force can make cuts to pay our share of the sequestration bill is in readiness. For the Air Force, tiered readiness (or various states of readiness) is not our culture and not an option because our standing combatant command requirement is equal to or below what the Total Force Air Force is capable of providing. Preserving readiness while saving money will involve gaining efficiencies.

We also know the 815th and 345th Airlift Squadrons will close; ten of our C-130J aircraft will transfer to another base; and, we will lose our tactical airdrop and airland mission. With these cuts will be associated manning reductions in our Operations and Maintenance Groups. There will be additional readiness challenges for the 403d Wing. We need to ensure our Aerial Porters have sufficient training opportunities. For safety and other reasons related to our WC-130 missions, we need to maintain a connection with Air Mobility Command, the lead command for the C-130. Most importantly, our Air Force Reserve Command wing must be able to provide operational capability, strategic depth and surge capacity to the Total Force Air Force.

With those facts, assumptions and considerations as starting points, your wing leadership is implementing our response plan. By answering the following questions, we are developing the model to be used to sustain our 403d Wing family when the curve balls start flying: How will we care for our Airmen and families? How can the 403d innovate and provide more efficient operations? Can we help AFRC reach their stated goals of retaining capacity and capability; and optimizing roles and missions? Simply phrased, how will the highly trained and very capable 403d Wing Airmen contribute to a combat-ready, cost-effective, experienced force?

Answering the above questions forces your 403d Wing leadership to focus our efforts on what we can influence. The author Charles Swindoll said, "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it." Our choices in response to unexpected situations will shape our future. I am guided first by taking care of our Airmen and families.We will work with higher headquarters to help ensure Airmen and families impacted by force reductions are given timely options. Locally, we will continue to take actions to minimize the number of affected Airmen. With our people cared for, we can then address the mission and new mission sets. Congressional language, crew capability and state-of-the-art aircraft permit us to help AFRC retain capacity and capability in tactical airdrop and airland by adding some combat capability to our 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. This will keep the vital link with Air Mobility Command so we continue to reap the benefits of evolving tactics, techniques and procedures. Our Port Dawgs can then maintain packing, loading and airdrop preflight skills.

In the area of optimizing roles and missions, we are strongly advocating the 403d Wing gain an operational Aeromedical Evacuation squadron. In addition to resounding support from our host wing and others, flying AE training missions on weather reconnaissance training missions can be done at current funding levels - cost avoidance. Integrating AE into our operations at Keesler is further facilitated with a flight line facility to be vacated when the 815th and 345th Airlift Squadrons leave.

Like events in our personal lives, we can rarely predict the future. There are, however, events for which we can plan. Our planning choices reveal our character. Airmen in the 403d Wing are resilient. Furthermore, we understand efficiencies must be realized and effectiveness maintained or improved. As we all take ownership and remain accountable for our individual responsibilities, we need to also consider innovative ways to improve our wing and unit processes. You have just been given a peek under the tent of what your leadership is working on. What is equally, if not more important, is what our Airmen at all levels are doing to strengthen our wing and our Air Force. You are empowered to share your innovative ideas. As a team, we will continue to be relevant in a Total Force Air Force.