Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO 21)-What Does It Mean to You?

  • Published
  • By Col William "Tim" Cahoon
  • Commander, 459th ARW
The intent of that article is to explain the program in more practical terms to you than you may have heard or seen to date. I intend to tell you here why it is important to you in the 459th ARW and ask for your support and cooperation in applying it to our mission.

I am not an AFSO 21 expert, and I doubt that I ever will be, but we do have those who are becoming experts. Capt Joy Atkins, our new ART Wing Process Manager recently joined our full-time ranks from the Services Flight, and will be deep into AFSO 21 soon. Col Tim Nelson , 459 MXG/CC, is well versed in AFSO 21. Regardless, I know enough about it to think I know what it is in its basic form, and to understand its value to us all. When one strips away all the fancy terminology and charts, and focuses on what I think one could or should call it, the term "Process Management", or "Process Engineering" comes to mind. When applied to existing processes "Process Re-engineering" may be appropriate.

Everything we do is guided by processes. We all follow processes every day. Some processes are already near perfect (or so we think) and/or cost us very little. Others cause us frustration, cost excess money, waste our time, and do not add value to what we do. While we should have always tried to do what we do with the least frustration, money and time, we have historically not always succeeded. Today we are challenged by increasing needs, insufficient funding to meet those needs, reduced manpower and increasing tasking. That should not surprise any of you.

So, bottom line, we all need to be involved in figuring out how to do more with less so that we can meet our increasing needs and taskings with current funding levels and reduced manpower. When I say we, I mean all of us, from the Air Force leadership all the way down to the newest Airman. We aren't going to be involved in AFSO 21 efforts constantly or forever, but each of us needs to think of when and where we can improve our processes to remove "non-value added" steps, save time, and/or save money, and then when it falls into our area of expertise actively participate in the group that is searching for ways to improve a process. We all have something to contribute. By way of example I cite what our Maintenance Group has done over the last few months. They have been developing and implementing a number of innovative process improvements that have greatly helped them improve efficiency and productivity, and those changes were lauded by the AFRC/A4 during the recent MSEP.

If we can accumulate enough savings over numerous processes and time, and our peers throughout the Air Force are conducting similar efforts, and we all share our best new/revised processes across the Air Force then we can make a difference. Conceivably we can afford to replace more worn out equipment, buy more of the latest technology aircraft and equipment that we need, and we can hire more personnel to meet our taskings.

Process improvement is important. We have an opportunity to make significant improvements to the way we do business. We have reached a critical time in the Air Force with regard to our resources, and I ask for your full support in learning about and implementing AFSO 21. We have no choice but to all take a personal interest in making our Air Force run more efficiently and effectively. If you are interested in learning more about it, please contact Capt Atkins at, or talk with your commander. I hope to see you all bring ideas forward that will yield improvements, and participate in process re-engineering when and where needed to help keep us as the world's best Air Force.