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NEWS | Dec. 8, 2006

Taking the road less traveled

By Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Davis Jr. Air Combat Command Command Surgeon's Office

You have just been handed the keys to a brand new sports car and given a choice of how to proceed to from point A to point B. Your choices are to take the road most frequently traveled with its already defined roadways, points of exit, and clearly marked mileage markers. Taking this road will almost ensure you arrive at point B in the same manner as others who have gone before you. This choice is appealing as there is safety and security in doing things the same way.

Your second choice is to set a new path by deviating from the normal roadway in order to chart a new course and determine if there might be a better way to arrive at point B and in the process of doing so save valuable time or money and reduce wear and tear on the car. This choice is appealing as it adds an element of unknown, thus some excitement, with the potential of improving upon an established process.

So which do you choose? Play it safe or try and find a new way and risk arriving a little later?

The choices this scenario provides are very similar to what our Air Force leaders have presented to us with Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, better known as AFSO 21. As we continue to downsize the force and reinvest personnel savings to help recapitalize the force, we will often be faced with a decision of whether to travel the road most frequented and thereby maintain the status quo, or to chart a new course through innovation and a bit of adventure. Many times, the latter choice is required as we can't afford to be "maintainers," but rather must challenge ourselves to be "innovators." This doesn't mean we blindly jump off the beaten path and begin foraging around looking for new ways to conduct our mission. In many cases, the established path is in great shape and offers a smooth drive to our destination; however, over time, roadways begin to develop obstacles such as potholes or congestion which slows us down. Such obstacles may require a simple tweaking or patching of the holes, or in the case of congestion, may require we chart a new path.

This is where AFSO 21 comes in and provides us with the vision, tools (LEAN principles), and most importantly the challenge to examine, tweak, adjust and improve work processes. AFSO 21 and the principles of LEAN are simply knowing where we are headed - our mission - and then taking a look at how we're programmed to arrive at our destination. If there's a shorter route that requires less use of valuable resources, then we should work toward charting that route and establishing a new way to arrive in a safe and efficient manner.

Every Airman has a stake in AFSO 21. We are all expected to take turns at the wheel and help chart new pathways for our Air Force. This is what makes AFSO 21 so interesting and powerful -- every Airman, from our most senior leaders to those just graduating from basic training, will help shape our Air Force. When you're faced with a choice of maintaining the status quo or charting a new path, I challenge you to be an innovator. It's an exciting time to be part of our Air Force as we take the road less traveled and chart new ways to remain the world's most dominant air, space, and cyberspace force.