Put people first through AFSO 21

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Connie L. Bias
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
I hold strong to the "people first" adage. We've all heard it: Take care of your people and the mission will happen, even flourish. Take care of your unit's family members and they will be there to take care of the servicemember, and therefore the unit.

During these years of decreased manning and increased global responsibility, that adage may be a bit more difficult to practice. It can be easy to spend less time focusing on people and more time worrying about mission, and understandably so. Our call to professionalism and perfection has not subsided, but Airmen of all ranks are now meeting mission objectives with less co-worker support, less guidance and a shorter learning curve. "Suck it up" may better describe the outlook of people who do, after all, still have a job to complete, whether we're happy or not.

But now is the time to concentrate on people more than ever. Now, don't get me wrong; sometimes we do just need to suck it up and get the job done. Military life involves sacrifice and hard work, and none of us is exempt. Long-term extended work hours and grueling deployment schedules with no end in sight, though, are stressful factors that can lead our servicemembers into depression and withdrawal, marital and family strife, bitterness toward a seemingly unforgiving military, etc. As a military family, we're not only responsible for getting the job done; we also have an obligation to take care of each other.

In the face of today's shifting military environment and growing mission demands, the Air Force offers an excellent program that allows each of us to take care of our coworkers, our subordinates and even ourselves: Air Force Smart Operations 21.

AFSO 21 is the Air Force's push to streamline operations, to make the service run as efficiently as possible. Any Airman can suggest a way to save money or manpower time, and an AFSO team will take a close look at the suggestion and its positive implications for the base and the Air Force. The program allows us to "smarten" operations and discard unnecessary work, enabling Airmen to spend maximized time contributing to the meat of the mission.

In my book, AFSO 21 is the ultimate way of taking care of your servicemembers and their families. I see participating in the program as a crucial morale-building activity that should neither be kept at the highest leadership level, nor designated to one or two people as an extra duty. Yes, each unit has an AFSO 21 representative, but the entire team should understand the suggestion process and be encouraged to participate. In fact, I would go so far as to say it's our duty to embrace the program and implement its initiatives into our work centers.

When it comes to morale, what better way to counter your Airmen's growing mission demands than to ease their work load and rid them of unneeded duties or clear unnecessary steps on a checklist? How better to help your unit's family members than to cut the work fat and send your shop home on time, or even early periodically if the job is done? Supervisors and commanders have a prime opportunity through AFSO 21 to take their experience and knowledge and make lasting, morale-building advances for their unit and an endless number of Airmen in the future.

The opportunity applies to new Airmen too, who come to the service with a fresh set of eyes, a willing eagerness to contribute, and often a sharp understanding of today's technological advantages. We need the perspectives, suggestions and experiences of these young Airmen to create a balanced Air Force. If we're not engaging our youngest and newest servicemembers in our AFSO 21 activities and initiatives, we're selling ourselves short, and disallowing them to offer inputs that can strengthen us as a team.

Fairchild's AFSO 21 program is already strong. Since January, almost 30 improvements on the base have been documented through the program, and that number is steadily rising. Also, the base took the program to a new level this year by merging the AFSO 21 and IDEA programs. The Innovative Development through Employee Awareness Program specifically seeks out financial savings, so a person can make a suggestion and possibly receive a financial reward, based upon the suggestion's final results and savings. By pairing the two programs, AFSO 21 suggestions that result in savings can be turned over to IDEA representatives, and IDEA suggestions that actually save more time than money are also sent to the appropriate channel.

These are great steps toward building a smarter force. I think we can do even more by raising awareness of the AFSO 21 program and stressing how much of a morale-builder it can be if we use it to its full potential. By opening the doors at unit levels, perhaps even taking AFSO suggestions at unit meetings, and by creating an attitude of positive change through the program, we can allow this forward-thinking program to help us take care of the most important asset of this great Air Force: our people.