Recently a four-star Air Force general shared his thoughts with the community on a range of topics from the future of the Air Force in the digital age, to his distinguished career, to his thoughts on leadership.
Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander, Air Force Materiel Command, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was supposed to appear in person at a luncheon on Oct. 21, but decided to attend virtually due to concerns about COVID-19.
The event was hosted through a collaboration between the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association (NIDIA), the Northeast Indiana Base Community Council (NIBCC) and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.
Following are highlights of his talk:
Dealing with 87,000 subordinates
Bunch builds up the 87,000 airmen under his command, telling them “we’re the most important major command in the U.S. Air Force and it is an honor and a privilege for me to get to work for 87,000 airmen.”
Note his choice of words: work for.
He doesn’t make the distinction between uniform or non-uniform or civilian airmen. They’re all just “airmen” to him. He says, “despite the fact that three-fourths of our airmen are non-uniform wearers, everyone in this command has to work together or we can’t get the mission done.”
Coping with COVID-19
“That’s the elephant in the room that everybody’s aware of,” Bunch said of the pandemic. He said they’re coping by doing much more telework, but that doesn’t solve everything, and safety is an issue. “There are parts of what we do that I cannot have done through telework,” he said. For those who have to be at work in person, they create a safe environment that still allows airmen to get the job done.
Speed with discipline
“We have to get technology into the field at the speed of relevance,” Bunch said. “We cannot have 30-year development cycles anymore.”
And the workforce must be up to speed working in this digital environment. “That’s an area that we will have to partner with universities and others to make sure we’re bringing in digitally astute airmen.”
Bunch hopes changes in the workforce will allow decisions to be made by airmen lower in the organization “so that it is getting done in a more rapid manner and we can move faster. That is gonna make some people very uncomfortable ... but that’s where we’ve got to go if we’re gonna move at the speed of relevance.”
Diversity and inclusion also are a big focus for the Air Force. “Diversity should be our strength,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re embracing it.”
They are forming diversity and inclusion councils at each of their installations to see where there are issues. Bunch said right now they’re having “sensing sessions” where they can have some uncomfortable conversations so people have more freedom to talk about issues. But “it is not something that we can get done overnight,” he said.
Working with families
There’s an old saying that is still relevant today: “If Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.” The Air Force recognizes when an airman brings his family to a new location, the spouse may want to continue their career. And for children, finding the right school is important. So finding a community airmen and their families can assimilate into will be a priority going forward.
Bunch says the Air Force needs to change they way they’re doing things and the way they look at problems. But they’ve had challenges for many years and have worked through them “because we trust our airmen, we empower them, and we pull industry into the equation and we work together because it is too important for the nation to not continue to be that beacon of hope for the rest of the free world for how we do this.”