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The Air Force Reserve: A heritage of innovation

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott L. McLaughlin
  • 446th Airlift Wing
Faced with continued budget uncertainty, leaders throughout the military have struggled to maintain the balance between mission execution and taking care of their people.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with our elected officials from Washington during an annual Capitol Hill Visit to discuss, among other things, the impact of the military budget on day-to-day operations at the unit level.

Thanking them for passing the bipartisan appropriations for fiscal 2016 was an important theme during our conversations and we were also able to discuss specific issues relating to the Air Force Reserve.

I left Washington, D.C., the next day grateful for the opportunity to interact with our elected officials and discuss the issues we’re facing.

The Air Force Reserve Command is known for being resourceful. Recently, the Air Force Reserve commander, Lt Gen. Jackson, launched a major command-wide innovation campaign to capture and implement best practices that improve mission execution and process efficiency. Indeed, saving time and money is integral to our Reserve culture and a cornerstone of the Air Force Reserve mission of “Providing Combat-Ready Forces.”

At the Rainier Wing, we have embarked on our Continuous Process Improvement journey to include performing an Enterprise Value Stream Analysis for each of our 18 units. This endeavor identified 86 wing processes requiring immediate improvement. To date we have completed 38 process improvement projects and we hope to have the remaining 48 completed by year’s end.

Implementing a culture of Continuous Process Improvement has definitely postured the Rainier Wing for continued success regardless of future budget challenges.

Of course, the entire U.S. military has an impressive history of innovation. For me, one story of a famous Reservist stands out as a poignant example of how innovation has a direct and positive impact on military operations.

Major Jimmy Doolittle served as a Reservist. In his civilian job, he was the manager of Shell Oil Company’s Aviation Department. Doolittle convinced Shell to produce 100 octane aviation gasoline. Before World War II, Doolittle realized that if the United States got involved in the war in Europe, it would require large amounts of aviation fuel with high octane.

Fuel is rated according to its level of octane. High amounts of octane allow an aircraft’s piston engine to burn its fuel efficiently, a quality called “anti-knock” because the engine does not misfire, or “knock.”

At that time, high-octane aviation gas was only a small percentage of the overall petroleum refined in the United States. Most gas had no more than an 87 octane rating.

Doolittle pushed hard for the development of 100-octane fuel (commonly called Aviation Gasoline or AvGas) and convinced Shell to begin manufacturing it, to stockpile the chemicals necessary to make more, and to modify its refineries to make mass production of high-octane fuel possible.

As a result, when the United States entered the war in late 1941, it had plenty of high-quality fuel for its engines. On Jan. 2, 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army Air Forces promoted Doolittle to lieutenant colonel and assigned him to Army Air Forces Headquarters to plan a retaliatory strike on Japan.

On April 18, 1942, Doolittle and the 16 B-25B Mitchell bomber aircraft under his command took off from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. While the raid did not cause great damage to Japan, it had a significant psychological impact on both Americans and the Japanese.

Innovating how we operate is something we’ve always done in the military and future budget certainty and predictability might be a challenge, however, I’m confident we’ll find a way to ensure we’re always mission ready.