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Operation Iron Sharpener commences at AFOATS

  • Published
  • By Phil Berube
  • Air University Public Affairs
The Air Force's largest and oldest commissioning source is rallying its forces to improve the way it prepares future officers to tackle global challenges.

Military and civilian members at Headquarters Air Force Officer Accession and Training Schools are fully engaged in Operation Iron Sharpener, a process-improvement drill that touches all elements of officer production, citizenship development and public perception.

Similar in design to Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO21, Operation Iron Sharpener is built around process improvement applications - Lean and Six Sigma - used by civilian industry and several Air Force organizations, such as Air Force Materiel Command.

"We want all of our people to focus on improving processes instead of trying to change for change's sake," said Brig. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, AFOATS commander. "We're gathering inputs and thoughts from our people to focus on process improvement and elimination of wasteful tactics, techniques and procedures throughout AFOATS."

AFOATS encompasses Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, Air Force Junior ROTC and Officer Training School. The organization, based at Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., commissions approximately 80 percent of the Air Force officer corps through ROTC and OTS, and teaches more than 102,000 high schools students enrolled in JROTC.

To cultivate a grassroots effort within AFOATS, every member of the organization has signed up to be part of one or more of the teams deployed to examine and track processes in key functional areas and come up with an improvement plan. The three broad functional areas being scrutinized are the student, staff and enabler (public perception) programs.

"This entire operation is based on individuals making an effort to improve their own work environment and the organization's processes," said Col. Norm Balchunas, AFJROTC director and the person charged to oversee Operation Iron Sharpener at AFOATS. "Operation Iron Sharpener is a commitment from the top that empowers everyone in AFOATS to improve day-to-day and future operational capabilities."

The thrust of the student initiative team is to review ROTC and OTS curricula and see how best to teach process improvement disciplines in the classrooms and revise curriculum to further develop an officer's ability to adapt to a broad set of possible challenges in future conflicts in a joint environment.

"Our focus will concentrate on what skills, education and experience future Airmen will require to survive and prosper in the future, given Global War on Terror and expeditionary commitments," said Lt. Col. John Kiecana, leader of the student initiative team.

The staff initiative team is targeting a commitment from active duty members to serve as instructors, cadre or support staff in AFOATS. To get that commitment, the team is pursuing several initiatives that will help give credibility to an AFOATS assignment. A few of the initiatives being explored include giving "commander" status to ROTC detachment and regional commanders, allowing special duty credit for assigned personnel, and offering continuing education opportunities to ROTC cadre.

"We've done a phenomenal job of taking care of our external customers - ROTC detachments and JROTC units - but we've somewhat neglected our headquarters staff and staff in the field," said Lt. Col. Ken Klein, team leader. "The staff initiatives area addresses these 'shortcomings.' For example, we're looking at ways for personnel working outside their career fields to stay current and engaged with their core Air Force specialties so they'll be able to effectively transition back into their career fields after their AFOATS tours."

While the staff initiative team seeks to make AFOATS an assignment of choice, the enablers team aims to better market AFOATS as a commissioning source and highlight its achievements, thereby helping the staff and student teams meet their objectives.
To meet its objectives, the enabler team plans on creating an ROTC/OTS alumni association, publicizing AFOATS through internal and external media outlets and examining the various scholarship programs offered by ROTC to ascertain which are most effective at meeting AFOATS' commissioning objectives, said Maj. Brian Smith, enabler team leader.

Operation Iron Sharpener is not about getting a "quick fix," and an "end-goal" may never be achieved, said General Hawkins. "If you read about the civilian companies and military organizations, such as the Air Force logistics community, that have been successful with Lean and Six Sigma process improvement models, you'll see that you're always in a cycle of eliminating waste, improving processes and exploiting technology," he said. "And this is what Operation Iron Sharpener is all about."
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