In my previous post, I mentioned I wanted to be a fighter pilot. As a child of the ‘80s, I was captivated by Top Gun. I researched anything military, whether it was bombers, ICBMs, nuclear-powered submarines or aircraft carriers. As a military brat, I visited Navy stations, Army bases and Air Force runways just to catch a glimpse of an aircraft, but it was almost always from afar. The closest I got was during air shows. Sometimes I was part of a crowd surrounding stunning, military jets or part of a group of onlookers as we gazed into a roped-off hangar further away.
When I got to work with the US Navy, I was up close and personal with fighter planes. It wasn’t cockpit-close like the F-15, but these jets were on an active runway and in use. When the F-18 Super Hornets took off, you could wait and hear the faded booming of distant bombs falling on the desert range to the east, pounding the ground with 500 lb. of explosives on each drop.
My job was helping the naval ordnance team to be more efficient in the entire process from bunker to fighter and return. I worked with a small group of E2s to E4s, with an E6 to keep them in line. Their language was enough to make a sailor blush. Oh wait, they were sailors. Enough to make me blush. They pushed each other hard, they didn’t let any mistake remain unfixed or poor performance not be corrected, and they called each other out on anything and everything that kept them from achieving top level results. I loved it.
The process I apply at clients can be very demanding. We pull aside a team of about ten people for a full business week to drive significant improvements immediately. Every day can be draining. They have nicknames for each hard day: Margarita Monday, Tequila Tuesday, and Whiskey Wednesday. By Thursdays, the team has made it past the tough part and has to implement the defined work.
These soldiers did a fantastic job. Their Chief had created a team that could perform under difficulty. I pushed them hard too. They came together, fought, talked it out, argued, cursed and came up with a great new process that improved mission readiness and performance. They were proud of their motto and shouted it with pride: IYAOYAS!
My mission, if I should choose to accept it: Design a new, medical clinic that will keep the airmen mission-ready for decades into the future. The medical group commander responsible for the project was a full Colonel that wanted the best for her troops but insisted on the optimum use of the designated funds for the project. The Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) that she assigned the work to wanted to do it the typical Air Force way. We began the work and quickly identified they could reduce the new clinic’s footprint by fifty percent. We were still meeting demand, working faster, and meeting the target of having no waiting rooms. The Lt Col didn’t believe it could be done.
As always, there was some pushback. The Lt Col became an active resistor to the new possibility. We pushed with data. Ultimately, it was a compromise between our capability and their comfort level with the approach. Although they ended up adding some space back for their peace of mind and comfort, it was a great result. The output thrilled the Colonel. I earned a commander’s coin for that work. That clinic now serves as a model for the Air Force. What happened with the Lt Col? He was unceremoniously pushed on to his next role.
I loved this project, not because we were achieving our mission to improve the accomplishment of their mission, but because it was a base with fighter jets. In junior high, I had dreams of becoming a fighter pilot. I wanted to fly the F-15 Eagle. It was the premier fighter jet during the ‘80s. I had models of it, drew pictures of it, and stood in awe at its performance at the annual air show. However, my dreams died when I got glasses to correct my nearsightedness. Although, the F-22 replaced the F-15 and the F-35 is replacing the F-22, there were still some F-15s around on this base.
During my training runs in the evening, there was a road next to the airstrip that the F-15s would use. One run allowed me to “race” an F-15 as it taxied down the runway. I shared my story with the Colonel and the next day I was standing in a hangar, climbing into the cockpit of my childhood dream. We didn’t go out for a flight, but I was sitting in the jet, looking at gauges and controls of this once-elite fighter. I loved it.