What has AFSO21 done for you lately?

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- There has been a flurry of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century activity on base lately, and it seems you cannot open the paper or walk into a work center without seeing something related to this new and still uncertain buzz.

Thus far, all of the AFSO21 events here seemed to have been geared toward specific internal processes and customer-service initiatives that have a great affect on reducing man-hours and wasted steps. While these events have been successful, the folks at the Spangdahlem post office took it a bit further with their first AFSO21 event.

The postal staff conducted an AFSO21 event that also focused on potential benefits to the entire Spangdahlem community May 21 - 25. The specific process they scrutinized was how a piece of mail moves from the loading dock to the customer's hands. They chose this process for its potential to reduce overall man-hours of the postal workers and, of equal importance, to expedite the mail to the customers.

"You might think this is a straightforward and easy process," said Capt. Michael Curry, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron and the event facilitator. "But it is much more complicated than meets the eye."

The process involved all levels of postal workers and other 52nd Fighter Wing personnel from airman first class to lieutenant colonel, and everyone had an equal voice in providing changes and contributions to the effort.

"I felt the commander gave my comments equal consideration and merit as to those of the SNCOs who were involved," said Airman 1st Class Rhonnie Kolp, 52nd Communications Squadron records management section. "The base and the Air Force in general will benefit greatly by involving as many people as possible in these events and by creating AFSO21 as a culture."

After long hours of process study and collaboration, it was not only apparent to the post office staff there were many areas in need of change, but also that other areas needed the scrutiny of a fresh eye to identify areas for improvement.

"The non-subject matter experts on the team stepped in and made valuable contributions in all areas of the event," Captain Curry said.

Through this study most skeptics saw some immediate benefits and the potential for several more as long as aggressive and unwavering follow-up continues through all identified areas.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for the event was a lack of process metric data. Historical data is one of the primary items needed for an AFSO21 event to form the baseline to track the level of improvement garnered from the effort. Unfortunately, the practice the postal technicians chose to improve did not require managerial tracking and therefore had no historical data. So one of their first actions was to identify and begin tracking metrics that would allow them to follow their progress.

The first AFSO21 event produced two "just do it" actions, or items that could be taken care immediately, that have had a positive impact. The first was a reinterpretation of a Department of Defense directive where the military identification card was the only form of ID used to identify patrons at the parcel pick-up window. The staff determined any picture ID is sufficient for positive identification and this resulted in fewer people being turned away if they did not have their military ID.

The second initiative saves 312 man hours per year by enforcing a minimum usage requirement for the eight mail drop boxes around the base. Only one of the eight met the minimum requirement with the other seven averaging about 80 percent below the minimum; therefore, those boxes were removed and people are no longer sent out to recover mail from them.

"Initial efforts of this event were mutually beneficial to both the postal technicians and patrons alike," said Staff Sgt. "AJ" Haro-Bousa, 52nd CS postal training NCO.

The postal staff will continue to follow up on future projects until they have reaped the maximum potential of these events, as is the case with the Rapid Improvement Event that ends today. The staff shut down business in order to reorganize the warehouse in an effort to streamline the flow of bulk mail processing. While this closure caused an interruption in service, the staff hopes the base populace will experience an increase in efficiency when receiving package notifications and retrieving packages at the parcel pick-up window.

Lt. Col. Kevin Bennett, 52nd CS commander and process owner, summed up the event with the following observation, "Though some people may view AFSO21 as a solution to the Air Force wide manning cut woes or as a feeble reincarnation of the Quality Air Force or Total Quality Management initiatives, the reality is that it is but another set of management tools to add to all the other tools the Air Force has at its disposal. As with any tool, AFSO21 is only as good as the team who wields it and the tenacity and resolve with which they maintain it. For the post office, AFSO21 is simply an opportunity to make life a bit better for the technician and for the nearly 15,000 Eifel community residents."