By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Raughton, 18th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 15, 2021
U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles takeoff from the runway and taxi along the flightline during Exercise WestPac Rumrunner Oct. 16, 2020, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 18th Wing must be ready to cooperate with regional partners, ready to compete against peer adversaries, and ready to fight tonight should there be a need to do so. By continuously exercising, the 18th Wing is able to bolster lethality and combined interoperability with partners. Exercises focus on readiness of force and optimize international engagements to build partner capacity. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Sutton)
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Hall and Senior Airman Christopher Tallan, both 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenic production operators, prepare to fill a cart with liquid oxygen July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The production plant provides liquid nitrogen and oxygen to different organizations throughout the island.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith)
Air Force readiness can be defined in terms of how efficiently the military can generate air combat capabilities along with steadfast personnel to execute military operations anywhere in the world with speed, force, and precision.
The 18th Maintenance Group is a prime example of excellence in readiness, utilizing tested problem-solving methods to maximize day-to-day operations, leading to groundbreaking outcomes.
As a result, the 18th MXG has decreased work hours, increased morale, and still smashed Pacific Air Forces records generating aircraft at a rate beyond expectation.
“Here at Kadena, we established a CPI cell in the MXG through a partnership with our Wing Program Office to empower them to improve their processes from within,” said Master Sgt. Maurice Monroe, 18th Wing Process Manager.
In order to build a CPI Program within the MXG, group senior leaders were trained in CPI fundamentals and sought out facilitators through education.
Similar to an Air Force Specialty Code’s 5-, 7-, or 9-level occupational badge, a green belt-level member facilitates an event by bringing together a group of hand-selected subject matter experts to focus on a single area of a process such as time, cost, or resources. A black belt, however, will focus on more than one part of a process and may include SMEs from multiple units.
So how did they do it?
It begins with facilitators, or green belts, identifying subject matter experts.
“Imagine a group of SMEs coming together to problem-solve, brainstorm, identify root causes, develop counter measures, and implement and standardize them from a big piece of butcher paper to make things better,” said Tech. Sgt. Vitold Rybicki, 18th MXG NCO in-charge of CPI.
Rybicki talked about how maintainers have been empowered to innovate and make a difference.
“Whether it’s streamlining a process or figuring out a way to simplify work, we facilitators go in and get these people to think through and collaborate to come up with a solution,” said Master Sgt. Derrick Brooke, 18th MXG Quality Assurance and CPI green belt facilitator. “Our goal is to create a network of like-minded individuals who want to get after CPI and lead the 18th Maintenance Group to continued success.”
One operational achievement for the group came in the form of a 500-gallon liquid oxygen bottle.
"A lot of the processes that we improve are just simple fixes. They’re simple, but they have to come from the SMEs because they all know how everything works,” said Master Sgt. William Evans, 18th MXG Quality Assurance and Black Belt facilitator. “In this case, they were looking at liquid oxygen on the opposite side of the base.”
Aircrew ground equipment (AGE) drivers deliver equipment, including liquid oxygen tanks, to nearly every airframe across Kadena’s flightline.
“The drivers would drive all the way around the base to drop off liquid oxygen on the other side and then drive back,” Evans said. “He has to drive at 10 miles per hour. You can imagine how much time it took.”
The MXG then held a CPI event which led to the purchase of a 500-gallon liquid oxygen bottle to sit on the opposite side of base, saving critical base resources.
“If we have to take out one of those AGE drivers to go all the way around base and come back, now we’ve lost not only delivering resources on time, but we’ve missed out on this AGE driver being able to deliver other resources to multiple other airframes,” Brooke said. “All of that slows down the group’s ability to get after the mission. The belt system training [of CPI green and black Belt facilitators] doesn’t teach us how to solve problems. It teaches us how to get SMEs to solve their own problems.”
Evans noted that the 500-gallon bottle will eventually pay for itself in the cost of gas, maintenance on the vehicle, and all of the other tasks the AGE driver can be performing instead of perpetual back-and-forth trips.
Another 18th MXG success came in the form of Wing Inspection Team (WIT) cards used to test maintainers on exercise and contingency skillsets identified on an innovative maintenance syllabus.
“We used green belt facilitators to run a working group of SMEs when it comes to how to do exercises,” said Brooke. “Our goal was building a menu of everything we have to do throughout the calendar year to execute the mission. We call them desired learning objectives, and we grade the maintainers on it.”
The WIT cards allow the Airmen to be graded on the same scale. Every time one of the desired learning objectives are met, it’s marked off the card and captured on the comprehensive maintenance syllabus.
“Once we hit that mark, we can shift our focus,” Brooke said. “This opens our eyes and allows us to get after every single thing throughout the year using the same grading metric and getting as close to perfection as we can.”
Brooke said the ultimate goal is quality of life improvements for the Airmen, which results in more maintenance being performed in less time.
“As maintainers, we’ll never let the mission fail,” he said. “We’ve stretched ourselves thin in the past in order to get the mission done. However, by utilizing CPI to create more streamlined practices, we succeed without wasting unnecessary time or energy. What we do is build capacity into our schedules to improve quality of life while meeting and exceeding sortie generation requirements.”
Other units looking to find solutions for change may contact the 18th Wing CPI team at email@example.com. An Air Force-certified process improvement manager will evaluate the request and respond based on specific needs.