Training over experience

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mary Teeter
  • 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander
The 22nd Maintenance Group posted a very successful March in the record books. The team achieved a Home Station Logistics Departure Reliability rate of 95 percent, all while supporting one of the busiest flying schedules of the year, a deployment to Operation Odyssey Dawn and increases in personnel and aircraft deployed to Southwest Asia.

While you might expect this outstanding team to exceed Air Force standards, what you may not know is that this logistics departure reliability rate of 95 percent was the highest achieved in five and a half years. What makes it even more remarkable is the makeup of the workforce who achieved it.

In July 2009, the 22nd Air Refueling Wing accepted its full complement of aircraft post-Base Realignment and Closure, bringing the number of primary aircraft assigned to 48. Of the maintenance workforce who grew to maintain and generate those 50-year-old aircraft, only one in 28 of them had KC-135 Stratotanker experience. In fact, a large majority of maintainers moved to McConnell directly from technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. That's a total of over 300 new personnel since August 2009, nearly 65 percent of them entry level. Only four percent of new personnel had prior KC-135 maintenance experience.

With significant commitments all over the world, you may wonder how a junior, inexperienced workforce was able to arrive at a 95 percent Home Station Logistics Departure Reliability Rate. The answer is quite simply - training.

It's sometimes said that, "You have to spend money to make money." In the scenario above, the "money" spent was investment in training. Making a concerted, focused and disciplined effort to train individuals who generate aircraft, when those aircraft were already on the flying schedule, was not easy.

The 22nd MXG leadership designed a plan to ensure that large numbers of sortie producers could attend training, without sacrificing generation of safe, reliable aircraft and aircrew training.

Working with the 22nd Operations Group, the flying schedule was orchestrated to ensure that every flight maximized aircrew training. Though the number of flights per day decreased, every sortie counted.

There were no allowances for removing individuals from training, even for deployments, special missions, exercises or other reasons. Training became a primary focus.

If our goal is to generate aircraft, and our main priority is ensuring we accomplish the mission, you may still wonder how training could become a primary focus.

The 22nd MXG leadership envisioned the future payoff in mission generation that would result from day-to-day investment in training. This investment was not strictly in trainees, but also in infrastructure and quality instruction. Maximizing available classrooms and opportunities was essential towards realizing the benefit of trained maintainers.

Additionally, advocating through the chain of command to secure ongoing contingency operations funds to hire back hundreds of years of experience in former maintainers as instructors enhanced quality and throughput. In fact, the 22nd MXG has recently filled the nine civilian instructor positions envisioned in the overall training plan developed over a year ago.

While there may be no substitute for experience, a trained workforce is definitely a proven alternative. Training is the foundation to our ability to provide "Ready Airmen," "Ready Mobility" and "Superior Warfighter Support" to combatant commanders.

There is no doubt that the 22nd MXG's investment in training led to our team's ability to launch 95 percent of home station sorties on time in March. More importantly, training has ensured our maintainers are prepared to directly support missions and deployments around the globe at a time when our nation is busier than ever before.