Money well spent: Fiscal responsibility key to Air Power

  • Published
  • By Maj. Brent Hatch
  • 341st Comptroller Squadron
There's a chair in my office that I use every day when I'm at my desk. I never gave it much thought until two months into my tour when the new superintendent came into my office to discuss business. As we were standing there, he looked over at the chair, stopped what he was saying and, instead, proclaimed, "Boss, you need a new chair!" 

I looked at the chair. The arms were worn of their wood finish, there were a couple of stains on the red cloth and two of the wooden slats on the pedestal base were missing. 

I said, "Why do I need a new chair when this one works just fine?" His immediate response was, "You're the commander and folks expect you to have furniture befitting your position of authority and leadership." 

Without hesitation, I told him my chair was fine and it did not need replacing. 

Over the past two years, I've often looked at my chair and reflected on our exchange. When the screw holding the right arm onto the chair fell out, I almost succumbed to his thinking. When I thought of spending $500 to $800 for a new chair, though, I instead put the screw back in and tightened it down. Good as new ... it works. 

The Air Force prides itself on quality of life. In fact, it relies on that precept to entice young folks to join, and stay, in our wonderful service. Personally, I feel that quality of life needs to be balanced with what I call "military utility." Under the guise of quality of life, we have spent billions of dollars trying to give our Airmen the best of everything ... from dorms, to furniture, to equipment, to not having to clean, mow or sweep. Our base budgets are shrinking in order to shift funding to cover the Global War on Terrorism and recapitalization of the force. 

As Malmstrom's Comptroller, I am required to align recommended spending with "military utility" as I provide financial advice and decisions on where to use our scarce dollars in an effort to eke out the greatest return in accomplishing the mission. Military utility means that if an item is capable of fulfilling its purpose for the military mission, it doesn't need replacing. Instead, there are many other competing expenditures where we can use our money to further advance our mission effectiveness and efficiency. 

No longer do we have the luxury of replacing or upgrading based on color, scratches and faded material. In these times of leaner budgets, health, safety and mission must drive our decisions. 

This concept really hit home for me Nov. 17, 2006, when I walked into the dining facility in Iraq. As I turned to my left, I saw a chair tipped forward against a small round table. The table consisted of a lone place setting. Its meaning was not lost on me, but I quickly had a second, sobering thought go through my mind, "God forgive me that any of my troops should get wounded, captured or die because of lack of the very best equipment or training because I had spent my funds replacing chairs." When I returned from Iraq, I spent the $800 a new chair would have cost on purchasing the latest in ballistic protective helmets for my squadron's deploying troops; thus replacing the old, inadequate Kevlar helmets 

There's a chair in my office that I use every day. It suits me just fine.