New Robins commander reflects on first months on the job

New Robins complex commander reflects on first months on the job

wcrenshaw@macon.comNovember 2, 2012 

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- In July, Brig. Gen. Cedric George took command of the new Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex during a time that could hardly be more critical.

The establishment of the complex is part of an ambitious Air Force Materiel Command reorganization that consolidated command in a cost-cutting measure. Meanwhile, there is real potential of a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission in the next three to five years. Significant across-the-board cuts to the military may also be coming in January if Congress fails to reach an agreement to stop it.

The base made significant strides in production, safety and quality in the past year, and now it is in George’s hands to keep that going. In the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1, the base has maintained a perfect on-time delivery record for aircraft.

George discussed several issues related to Robins Air Force Base when he sat down for his first extended interview since taking command.

On his impressions of the base and the community:

Like everybody who comes to Warner Robins, the community is the first thing that sticks out. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen. I grew up in the military, and this is the best community I’ve been in, bar none.

The first test is my daughters, who go, ‘Daddy, the kids, they welcomed us in, had us join them at the lunch table. We didn’t have to go hunt and peck and figure out where to sit. They just grabbed us.’ That’s the first true test. The second test is, everywhere you go people are hard-wired to say, ‘How can we help?’ And it’s not just words. They believe it. What do you say to a community like that, where every day is armed forces appreciation day and they mean it, beyond just a slogan?

Back at the work front, I will tell you, while we are absolutely proud of what we did in (fiscal 2012), we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got some work to do in continuing to drive improvements across our machines and continuing to get better and better at what we do every day.

On how the reorganization is working:

I think the employees, from what they did, for the vast majority of them it’s the same thing they are doing today, so I think the adjustment has been going well. Where you see a lot of the changes, I think the impact is really at my level and the colonel and (senior executive) level ... That is that they are having to adjust to a little bit -- the fact that you don’t have a center commander, you have a complex commander. But for the average worker, probably more than 99 percent of them are doing the same thing they did back in July.

On the automatic spending cuts commonly referred to as sequestration that will take place Jan. 2 if Congress doesn’t reach an alternative agreement:

I think the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of defense have been clear there will be impacts across the Department of Defense if the sequestration comes into play. I think what we need to do is to be ready to adjust to whatever our congressional members do, and we are going to do that. It’s not the first time the department has faced a s`ituation where there is uncertainty about the future of what we do. We look uncertainty in the face, and when it gets here we walk right through it.

I’m a taxpayer like everybody sitting in this room. We know this nation, we have to get our fiscal house in order, and I’m pleased to see our Air Force stepped up and we contributed to this, and quite candidly we need to. I firmly believe our fiscal house is a threat. The fact that we continue to have this high debt is absolutely a threat to this nation.

The cost of readiness and our ability to drive that cost down will determine the size of our Air Force in the future. So we’ve got to get better and better at what we do. What we are telling our workforce today is we’ve got to make sure that every day we leave here, we will ensure that tomorrow is better than today. We’ve got to find ways, and I’m talking all kinds of ways. What you see happening is we are getting very stingy about the number of temporary duty trips we take. We are getting very stingy about how many lights we have on, and this is all good. This is what you and I do every day in our house in managing our budget.

On the biggest challenges ahead from the base aside from budget cuts:

We have to make sure we are delivering the best value to the warfighter. Gone are the days of thinking the work will always come here. We have got to earn the right to do the work. Only the strong will survive, and there’s no doubt in my mind with our workforce we are going to be in the strong category.

On the possibility Robins could gain missions in the near future:

I think that opportunity is real, but we’ve got to drive efficiencies. What’s so hard is when you have a team that’s doing well, when they are getting trophies like the top production line in the (Department of Defense), there is a temptation to go ‘We can rest on our laurels.’ If we do that, we run the risk of becoming complacent, so the opportunity we have to take advantage of is saying ‘Can we drive efficiencies in our business? Do you need that many people on that production line? Do you need that many resources on that production line? Can you move that somewhere else?’ That includes my office. I tell my staff, ‘What are we doing? How are we contributing to getting better and better each day?’

On the shift change that has about 4,000 mechanics starting work at 7 a.m. rather than 6 a.m., creating more traffic coming into the base at once:

The reason why we made those decisions in concert with our community partners is we were not getting the through put we needed to get, and the return in hours from our workforce based on daylight savings time. Although a lot of our work is done inside hangars, a lot of it is done outside, and we had folks showing up ... it’s dark outside.

At the end of the day we were not getting the output from our mechanics, and it had to do with daylight savings time. We worked through this in detail with our partnership. We sat down with our partnership, and I’m thrilled to see how the union engaged. I will tell you they did not agree with the move, but they were absolutely brilliant in helping us move through the decision as we went through this. I will tell you, we are seeing output results having moved that shift. By the way, we have been in that shift since 9/11. We went to that because of 9/11, and we never came out of it.

On relations with the union:

Like any large team, we can always do better. I want to over communicate with our team. I want to have as much visibility into how they are doing and how they are contributing to what I call a good day in maintenance.

It’s a work in progress, that’s fair to say. I’ve got a great partner, but just like any partnership we have to work together. We have to communicate.

We have to understand each others interests. We have to ensure we have joining interests, and then we have to work those. It’s something that has to be worked hard here at Robins, and we are doing that.

The union president and I sit down on a weekly basis. Each week we sit down. We call it our coffee calls.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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