MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
Agile Combat Employment or ACE is a new term to the McConnell vocabulary fueled by the formation of a new team working to expand the 22nd Air Refueling Wing’s capabilities as part of a larger Air Force effort to provide operational units with greater flexibility and increase combat capability.
McConnell’s ACE Team was formed July 2021 in response to the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Brown Jr.’s release of the CSAF Action Orders to Accelerate Change Across the Air Force.
Upon taking over as the Air Force's top officer, Brown revealed a set of directives aimed at changing the forces' operational concepts in four key areas: empowering Airmen, shrinking bureaucracy, global competition, and future force design. The strategic approach that Brown laid out serves not only as a challenge to the Air Force, but also as his intent to what he wants the force to accomplish during his tenure and beyond.
“If we don't change – if we fail to adapt – we risk losing the certainty with which we have defended our national interests for decades,” stated Brown. “We risk losing a high-end fight.”
To accomplish Brown's objectives, ACE was established with a mission to be proactive and reactive in an operational capacity to increase survivability while generating combat power. Team McConnell developed an ACE program to tackle Brown’s objectives. The ACE Team includes: Capt. Henry Darr, Master Sgt. Timothy Bulluck, and Technical Sgt. Trevor Kuhns.
The ACE Team are considered “the cream of the crop” experts for their perspective jobs.
“I was selected as the former chief of wing tactics, a KC-135/KC-46 instructor pilot and weapons officer,” said Captain Darr. “Sergeant Bulluck is a maintainer by trade, formerly a lead pro superintendent on the KC-135 and KC-46. Sergeant Kuhns is a Petroleum troop who was heavily involved with Hot Pit Training and Operations in the Indo-Pacific Theater.”
The job of ACE is to guide groups, squadrons, and units to change the way they think about approaching a problem. Experts from these individual functionalities are gathered together to discuss issues they might have in the future and how to best find a solution.
“ACE is a change of mindset in how we operate as a whole,” said Kuhns. “ACE is not a specific plan, and it’s a universal application to operations and a change in the formulation of the way you think about approaching a problem. It’s more about trusting functional experts to use their expertise in the way they see fit.”
The freedom of maneuverability given to ACE in how they accomplish their objectives is an opportunity that allows the team to take advantage of different options and resources such as skill sets, experience, and, most importantly, people.
Leaders at all levels remain foundational to the continued success of ACE and the innovative edge that maintains the advantage for the Air Force. Innovation is made possible by Airmen who can expect to become “multi-capable.”
Multi-capable Airmen must become experts in their field while also looking at additional opportunities within their functional area that they can get familiar with. The ability to accomplish multiple tasks within one's job or career helps align the key goals of Brown's initial directive: empower Airmen and limit bureaucracy, which will spark new ideas, innovation and change moving forward.
So what does ACE look like? It depends on the installation, mission and capabilities. Depending on an installation's mission, the goals and adaptability of ACE will look different, but change is inevitable, and the necessity to change is a mandate.
The reality stands that U.S. adversaries continue to move forward with advances in technology and manpower. The goal of Brown’s strategic approach is to help the U.S. remain the most dominant Air Force in the world and stay ahead of its competitors.
“We have to honestly face the truth when understanding that the way we do business right now may not work in future conflicts,” added Kuhns. “Being able to maneuver more quickly and become more unpredictable is paramount to how we move forward from a strategic point of view. ACE is a program that empowers innovation to tackle General Brown’s objectives and McConnell is on board.”