Commentary: Sustaining Afghanistan, Part 2

By PATRIC E. MILLER
Air Force Sustainment Center, Ogden Air Logistics Complex
April 13, 2017

(Editor’s notes: This is the second of a two-part commentary. Part 1 appeared in the April 6 Hilltop Times.)

 

After serving 20 years as an Airman, I continue to serve as a civil servant stationed in Utah. After 16 years of wearing civilian clothes, I still felt a calling to support the warfighter and serve with the men and women of our uniformed services. 

Not knowing what opportunities were available, I started researching the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce program. I soon learned there are ample opportunities to give back to my country as a civilian. 

I applied through the website and started a journey that reaped rewards beyond my imagination. 

After being selected, the deployment starts with an extensive two-week training session to prepare for what to expect during the course of the assignment. I trained at Camp Atterbury, just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. 

The training ranged from profiling, operating out of a forward operating base (FOB), weapons qualification, and simulated attacks. The training ends with an Afghan dinner then off to Afghanistan.

In country, I was assigned to Combined Security Transit ion Command, Afghanistan, Camp RS, Kabul, Afghanistan. Our mission is to support the Afghan National Army. The ANA is the main branch of the Afghan Armed Forces, responsible for ground warfare. It is under the Ministry of Defense in Kabul and is trained by NATO forces, with America leading the way. 

The ANA is divided into six regional Corps with the 201st in Kabul followed by the 203rd in Gardez, 205th in Kandahar, 207th in Herat, 209th in Mazar-i-Sharif and the 215th in Lashkar Gah. 

After a year of being deployed as a civilian with the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce, I returned home to Hill Air Force Base, Utah. 

Being back feels surreal and I realize that things have not changed, but I have. I was stationed at Camp Resolute, Kabul, Afghanistan on a voluntary deployment for one year. 

During that time, my head was on a swivel. Turning my head like an owl, I would see a sea of desert uniforms interspersed with civilian attire. Civilians serving on deployments is rare.

As I struggle to get reintegrated with the current work environment, I reflect on the ‘Art of the Possible.’ 

Looking back at AoP core tenants–People, Processes, and Resources–I can easily connect the mission from a logistician view.

People. During my deployment, I was privileged to be able to interact with incredible people–Americans, Australians, British forces, and Afghans.

One particular day will live in infamy in my mind. Reports of active shooters with small arms fire quickly spread through CSTC-A. When I got the news, I scrambled to see if my troops were safe. My thoughts immediately went to the families of the fallen soldiers when I heard the news that we lost team members.

Losing members of one’s unit causes two actions. The first is inexplicable empathy and compassion for those who lost a loved one. The other is self-reflection. “There but by the grace of God go I…,” they say. I was in that very spot the day before.

In AFSC, we say “Mission First, People Always.” This reminds me that people accomplish the mission and when we say goodbye to heroes, we celebrate their sacrifice and mourn their loss in the same breath.

Processes. My logistics experience allowed me to provide synergistic efforts to the mission. With the environment being high-paced and dangerous, the turnover of people caused non-repeatable processes and degraded future planning. 

AFSC views processes as machines that produce results. Understanding how processes tie to the mission, I was able to help my team understand high-standard work and predictable output contribute to long-term success. 

I used my experience based on continuous process improvement to establish processes during my tenure that would carry momentum. Every job and role I serve in provides me the opportunity to look at processes. 

I am always surprised at how many non-value added process steps and/or processes exist because no one has ever challenged them. 

AFSC uses the Art of the Possible as a basis for how we conduct business. By definition, AoP is “…about reaching beyond today’s limitations to grasp previously unimagined heights of performance. It is about challenging each other to recognize opportunities, eliminate constraints, improve processes and optimize resources to achieve world record results. It isn’t about working harder, cutting corners or jeopardizing workplace safety but about expanding our vision of what is truly possible and refusing to settle for marginal improvements.”

A foundational principle of AoP is data driven decisions are made rather than personality based decisions. With $2 billion in annual expenses, I used my knowledge to draw the Afghan forces into the budget building process leaving them with both continuity and planning.

Resources. Simply put…there aren’t enough to go around. Serving with the Army, I quickly realized they are just as constrained as we are in the Air Force. 

In my capacity, I had to manage and plan to optimize resources. I was recently challenged when the President’s defense budget for fiscal year 2016 reduced overseas contingency operations account by 23 percent. 

This caused a reduction in manpower forcing us to be more efficient in life cycle management in both end-items and maintenance practices. We analyzed data to maximize the vehicle fleet using business rules that governed acquisition versus sustainment. 

At the conclusion of my tour, the unit honored me with a Secretary of Defense medal for Global War on Terrorism, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Superior Civilian Service Award, and a NATO medal. 

These certificates will not hang on my wall. They will probably end up in a mementos box, however, they will always serve as reminders of the privilege I had as a deployed civilian and as reminders of those who sacrificed for the mission.