Why do things that can be fixed stay broke

  • Published
  • By Col. Tim Gibson
  • Col. Tim Gibson
Have you ever seen something that needs fixed in our Air Force? Have you ever wondered why someone doesn't come along and take care it? Have you ever wondered why things that can obviously be improved stay broke?

Truthfully, it's ironic that the U.S. Air Force, of all organizations, would have this problem. We defend a nation that has been innovative since its inception. Our Constitution was, at the time, unique in the system it established for the United States. Within that framework, Americans have been unceasingly adaptable.

Consider the evolution of our once agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse and then an information age giant. Although it is easy to point to the assembly line and the personal computer as causes for those advances, what is often overlooked is before those things could be invented, someone had to dream them up. The ideas preceded reality.

Likewise, out of an innovative population, the U.S. Air Force draws members who are themselves very creative. Consider the amazing evolution of the aircraft, its roles and its missions.

From passive observation platforms to low-observable strike systems, we aggressively demanded more and more from airplanes. What drove that demand? Ideas. Leaders recognized the potential inherent in aircraft and sought to bring it to life. We saw synergies with commercial technologies, satellite systems, and computer networks and rolled them together until they became more than the sum of their parts.

I'll say it again, it's ironic that the Air Force would have trouble innovating. It's almost who we are by definition. So what is it that holds us back? Ever heard any of these excuses:
  • I'm only an Airman, second lieutenant, sergeant, captain, etc.
  • If there is a better way of doing it, my supervisor will tell me.
  • If I try something and fail, it'll reflect poorly on my performance report.
  • The Air Force Instruction says so.
  • I'm too new to know what needs to be changed.
  • Let the next person fix it; I'm almost out of here.
If you find any of those excuses fit you, I want you to reconsider. You have an important choice to make. You can choose to be part of the solution, in which case, keep reading. Your other option is to continue to complain about the situation. Let me be blunt. We got rid of most of the "whining" at Vance in 2006 when we stopped flying the T-37 Tweet. Nobody misses the noise so you shouldn't feel the burden to bring it back.

We've got a terrific mission here at Vance, both in our "home game" -- Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training -- and our "away game" -- deploying members downrange. But those areas are coming under increasing pressure in the form of manning and budget shortfalls.

Don't misunderstand, this is not a plea for us to do more with less. This is a commander telling you that we need to do things smarter and we need to get started sooner, not later. I've been here long enough to know we have some very gifted Airmen across this Wing who are plenty smart. How do we best capitalize on that potential to fix something the smart way?

First, comply with current guidance while you research why the process is built the way it is. You'll often find yourself surprised by what you discover. Once you've done your homework, talk with your supervisor about what you want to change and why. They are a wealth of information and will help you take the next step, that of bringing your idea up to the person who can make it happen.

Once the change has been decided, implement it to the best of your ability. Keep in mind that you still may have to make a few adjustments, so don't get discouraged if your fix doesn't seem to take right away.

Finally, codify the change so others can keep it going once you move on to bigger and better things. Then, as the commercial says, "lather, rinse, repeat." You'll find making things better is addictive. You'll want to do it again, and each time you do, you're making our Air Force a better place to work.

The reality of being an Airman is we operate every day in ever-changing circumstances. The good news is we come from a proud heritage of innovation, both by nationality and vocation. So let me ask one more question. Why don't you fix it yourself?