Thursday, December 13, 2007

TOP STORY >>The only guaranteed 'No' is...

By Lt. Col. Richard E. Sloop Jr.
314th Civil Engineer Squadron commander

Don’t ask the question. I am repeatedly amazed by how hard a concept this is to many of our Airmen in today’s Air Force. We have fallen on the excuse “there’s no money, no manpower, no time” to the point that it is easier to not ask the question rather than go through the process of identifying and advocating our needs.

Sure, resources are tight, requirements are many, and there are a lot of rules to be followed, but I have not seen the Air Force ignore a valid requirement in my 21 years of service – unless, of course, no one ever asked for it.

Before you start laughing out loud and asking when I fell off the turnip truck, you have to realize that how you ask is just as important as who and when. I am reminded of my first week as a civil engineer operations flight commander when I asked one of my shop foremen what his greatest needs were.

The 14-year senior NCO went on to describe, in excruciating detail, specific problems in each building down to what component needed replacing, and what system was complete and total junk. When he finished his list, I asked a simple question: “How have you identified these problems?” His response shocked me a bit – “I put a bug in several peoples’ ear.”

Sure enough, this individual had not put in a single work request that would have identified a valid facility requirement. Was this his fault? No, because he had been trained not to ask, and not to expect results when he did. His expectations had been set so low; he thought he knew the answer. There’s no money, so there’s no sense in asking.

I’d love to tell you that we were able to get these systems fixed during my tenure as an ops chief, but I can’t. However, we did get the requirements on the wing unfunded list and at least got the requirement some attention. At least my successor had the requirement identified and was able to take up the battle.

Which brings me to my next point: Once you’ve asked the question, filled out the paperwork and coordinated it beyond excess; have you continued to be the requirement’s advocate?

To borrow a quote from my boss, “A task passed is NOT a task complete.” The act of submitting a requirements document does not mean the battle is over. The requirement must have an advocate, someone who will stand on the mountain top, bang a fist on a desk and constantly shout out the dire need for whatever you’ve asked for. We have a common misconception that turning in a civil engineer work request, a supply requisition document, a training request or whatever piece of paper or electronic submission is all we need to do to establish a need.

The duties of an advocate do not transfer to the supply clerk, administrative assistant or service call technician when the paperwork is turned in. Those duties remain with you and your organization, which means you may have to get your supervisor, flight chief, commander or major command functional involved to help advocate and justify your need. My final thought is for those of us who provide services and fulfill requirements. Have we truly empowered our people on the front lines?

Does the person who can say “no” to a request have the ability to say “yes” to that same request? Is it easier to find an Air Force instruction paragraph that supports a “no” than it is to get a waiver that allows a “yes?” We owe it to our customers to give them every piece of information that will allow them to advocate for their requirement — even if it requires a little more homework and research.

The Air Force is the envy of the other services because we have been successful at advocating for and obtaining funding for our requirements. Our toolboxes are stocked, our facilities are in relatively good shape and our equipment is well maintained. This is so due to the dedication and persistence of our Airmen.

So, encourage our Airmen to take ownership, ask the question, bang on a desk or two, follow up to the end result and ensure we continue to be the most powerful and effective Air Force in the world.


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