I Have Just Three Questions…

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeff Frankhouser
  • 341st Maintenance Group commander
There's a lot of talk these days about reinvigoration or strengthening of the nuclear enterprise. Of course there's just as much talk about what exactly that means! The obvious stuff like more and better parts, pieces, manning and money are certainly getting a lot of discussion around the coffee pot. All that stuff is important, but that's really only a small segment of what we collectively need to be thinking about. The missing link is the reinvigoration and strengthening of the rigor, spirit and heart that made the nuclear community and the former Strategic Air Command stand apart. We can all admit that while still effective in our deterrent role, we had lost an edge. Great strides have been made since our transition to Air Force Global Strike Command, but we have a road yet to travel.

Before I took command of the Maintenance Group a year ago this month, I tried to boil down the thoughts and processes that bred our past successes into a bite size chunk I could bring to the field, something easy to remember. And that's how the "Big 3 Questions" were born: Do I know my job? Am I doing it right? And how do I know? Ask yourself these questions often and apply them to each and every key process that sets you and your airmen up for success, and you will succeed!

DO I KNOW MY JOB?: Do I have and understand all the guidance and instructions that govern my conduct? Do I know what ALL the appropriate checklists, AFIs, core documents, manuals, technical orders, MAJCOM and Joint regulations are and how to use them? Have I accomplished all the required initial skills and technical training required to be successful and ensured others have done so? Do I collect and share critical information needed to successfully complete tasks?

AM I DOING IT RIGHT?: How do I actually conduct my business? Have I helped establish a culture of 100 percent compliance with guidance, technical orders and instructions or do I tolerate "close enough is good enough" in my work center? Do I actively seek opportunities to improve my job knowledge and encourage others to do so through team and individual self-study, robust pre-task preparation to include "table topping" our most critical processes? Do I help develop, map out and capture best of breed processes, or do I allow my team to rely on perishable "tribal knowledge?" Do I take professional pride in the quality of my work...because my name and reputation are on everything I touch?

AND HOW DO I KNOW?: This is the toughest one to answer, because it requires us to be better at the one thing most of us traditionally are not good at; follow through and follow-up. Have I honestly assessed my performance? How do I prove the processes are working as well as I believe they are? Do I get out there and look and ask the hard questions or assume that others are getting it done? Do I seek different people (cross section, squadron, group, wing) with different lenses to honestly assess me? Am I happy fixing symptoms, or do I take the extra time needed to find the root cause to prevent future reoccurrence? Do I roll lessons learned back into my operational plans?

Most importantly, everyone needs to understand that "you don't know what you don't know." Assume that every process you think is perfect is actually broken or close to it. You have to do more than talk about a potential problem, you have to find it and physically walk through it...drop the coffee cup, roll your chair away from the e-mail inbox or get out of the truck and go look! When you find it, don't ignore it. Pull every loose thread you see as you peel apart a problem and follow that thread to its successful resolution. And remember you can never EVER take your foot off the gas for even a minute in the pursuit of perfection. It's the journey that is important, not the destination. On the road to perfection you will achieve excellence!

These three simple questions are only effective when they are asked at every level of leadership, and that starts with our Strategic Airmen, the men and women at the point of contact with the weapon system, turning the wrench, controlling the missile, defending the resource, maintaining the critical infrastructure and caring for the force. And most assuredly the other group upon whom we rely for our success is the front line leaders; those charged to daily serve and serve closely with those at the point of contact.

The only people who can create or negate trend, good or bad, are the folks at the pointy end of the spear. Translated that means that folks like myself don't control the outcome of our wing's success...you do! So ask the hard questions, lead the force and achieve greatly!