Our UCI Legacy

  • Published
  • By Col. Timothy Sakulich
  • 8th Mission Support Group
In the very last scene of the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark," a nondescript crate supposedly containing the priceless Ark of the Covenant is wheeled off into a warehouse. As the camera slowly zooms out we see that this warehouse is actually a cavernous space with thousands and thousands of indistinguishable crates, all covered in dust. We are left to believe that after our hero Indiana Jones has spent the entire movie racing around the world fighting the bad guys to locate and recover this treasure, it is once again "lost" to the ages -- along with the potential power and knowledge it could provide. To me, this scene provides an outstanding metaphor for what can easily happen to airpower knowledge without a disciplined effort to share and pass that knowledge along to our successors. And by knowledge I'm not just referring to doctrine, but also to the practical, day-to-day processes that enable a fighter wing's mission.

This year at Kunsan we have an amazing quest before us. As we strive to hone our warfighting competencies through operational readiness exercises, we are also driven by a vision of the Wolf Pack leading the Air Force with "smart operations" in everything we do and demonstrating that during our April 2008 Unit Compliance Inspection (UCI).

It is a certainty we'll encounter challenges. Some will be the result of our own local policies and process stove pipes that may have made sense at one time but no longer make sense in a 21st century and post-Presidential Budget Directive 720 Air Force. But Wolf Pack Airmen prove over and over again to be highly resourceful and adaptive in problem solving so I have no doubt we can achieve many "kills" as we improve how we operate. But we as leaders must be aggressive in making sure no Airman's work is rewarded by suffering the fate of the Ark, lost in a warehouse of bad processes, outdated procedures and fleeting initiatives -- or simply forgotten in the midst of countless personnel rotations. How can we ensure their efforts and accomplishments endure beyond the UCI and outlast our individual tours of duty?

I have found no magic formulas, but have learned the following of the course of my career; turning great ideas into lasting solutions requires a relentless focus on transparency, consistency and sustainability.

Transparency means making things clear and understandable. In today's high tempo environment, commanders and Airmen need the ability to address mission and personnel issues quickly. They cannot afford to waste time searching for policy documentation, sorting through unclear procedures, or making sense of functional jargon. Truly smart policies and processes will survive the light of day, even when they require difficult choices about priorities, resources and career development. A lack of openness has a harmful effect on overall teamwork.
That's why I strongly believe that unit level policies and decision processes should be readily available and in plain language for all to see. Secrets and mysteries will not endure.

Consistency means that outcomes will be the same when given the same basic inputs over and over. Without consistency, results will seem arbitrary and no better than a guessing game for the commanders and Airmen who depend on them. Not only will that cause frustration, it will tend to cause units to create ad hoc workarounds to compensate for the unpredictability, wasting time, energy and scarce resources. This is something we will need to pay particular attention to as we accomplish self-inspection checklists and especially as we implement support staff consolidations and other unit reorganizations. A focus on consistency will help turn innovative ideas into lasting solutions for getting the job done.

Sustainability is the ability for a great idea to survive a turnover in personnel without having to be reinvented. This is perhaps the trickiest issue of all for the Wolf Pack and requires the most thoughtfulness. Oral tradition and word-of-mouth handoffs may seem easy and expedient, but are highly vulnerable to garbling, accidental omissions, and individual forgetfulness, where good ideas can become mangled just like the whispered message in the children's game of "telephone." Hardcopy continuity binders are useful if maintained, but are subject to being misplaced and are not very practical for widespread information sharing. Reliance on emails and ad hoc folders in shared network drives is useful up to a point--until these become the electronic equivalent of the endless warehouse in the Indiana Jones movie.

I believe sustainability requires us to take an aggressive commitment to ensuring policies, decision processes, continuity books, libraries, and data available electronically through our intranet Web pages in an organized and easily accessible way. This might sound like getting into the weeds, but it is one proactive, immediate and measurable step we can take to help smart solutions endure beyond any individual Airman, their email account, contact number, shared drive folder, or hardcopy file.

In conclusion let's ensure that the great ideas of Wolf Pack Airmen endure beyond the UCI and outlast our individual tours of duty. Yes, the Wolf Pack's high operational tempo and rate of personnel rotations makes this particularly challenging, but that's why success will be all the more powerful: there's no reason the rest of the Air Force could not benefit from our efforts. And by seizing this opportunity we can contribute a powerful body of knowledge--a "smart operations" Ark--that will not be lost in a warehouse of initiatives, gathering only dust.