Brig. Gen. George reflects on first year as Air Logistics Complex commander

wcrenshaw@macon.comJuly 13, 2013 

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- Last July, Brig. Gen. Cedric George became the first commander of the newly formed Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.

He sat down with The Telegraph recently to discuss his first year in command, addressing topics that included labor/management relations, the impact of federal budget cuts and what the community can do to put the base in the best position to protect its missions.

The complex is essentially what used to be the 402nd Maintenance Wing and is the largest unit on base, employing about 7,000 people. It is responsible for overhaul maintenance on the C-5, C-130 and C-17 cargo planes as well as the F-15 fighter jet.

QUESTION: How would you assess how the past year has gone?

ANSWER: I think it has gone extremely well, and here is why. We knew this year was going to be all about building a solid foundation across this team that allows us to thrive in a down market. At my change of command I said we’ve got to deliver on our promises to our warfighting customers. I told this team we’ve got to improve performance, and that meant we absolutely have to have the right speed, quality and safety coming out of our lines. It’s all about our credibility.

If we are going to be competitive, if we are going to enter this category called world class, then we better be able to have better labor rates, competitive rates, because there are a lot of people who want to do this business. They want to do this thing called maintenance repair and overhaul.

Those are three things I told our people we needed to do. The other thing is that we needed to care for our people, and this has been a very challenging year. The four-fold process has been all about building this team that can thrive in a down market, and I think we have done extremely well.

QUESTION: How is the on-time delivery rate for aircraft this year, and will furloughs negatively impact that?

ANSWER: On-time delivery is one of many metrics. It’s our speed metric. I can tell you overall our customer is pleased with getting the aircraft back from this depot. So there was not much adjustments we needed to make in our speed area. We needed to make sure that speed, quality and safety -- those three things -- were coming out consistently from this depot.

The other thing I will tell you in respect to on-time delivery is we had a rule change. Last year we were able to have a grace period. If you were five days late, you were considered on time. This year that five-day grace period went away. So number wise, we have 19 late aircraft with that rules change, but big-picture wise, I will tell you the customer has not at all been bothered by getting those 19 aircraft late. What they have said is the quality and everything they are getting is something they are pleased to see.

By the way, if we used the same measurement for last year, we would have had 33 late aircraft.

QUESTION: How would assess employee morale in the complex?

ANSWER: It’s mixed; I’ll be honest with you. Our workforce, as dedicated as they are, I will tell you they are going through the stages of grieving. We’ve been on a journey this year. We went from we are going to have a furlough of 22 days, then it went down to 14 days and then to 11. This dedicated workforce has walked through that journey with us. There were many that were in denial; this is not going to happen. We now know we are going to do an 11-day furlough.

There was anger, but I think right now there is acceptance. But I tell you, I care deeply about this workforce. ... I think we will have a better feel in August of how folks are able to walk through this furlough.

I get a range of responses. Some people go “I’m looking forward to the three-day weekend.” All the way to the other extreme of “I’m a single parent, and I don’t know how I am going to make it through this.”

What we’ve got to do within the complex is take care of our team and keep our ears and eyes wide open, and this great community has got to continue to do what they are doing.

QUESTION: Your predecessor, retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, said earlier this year that the state of relations between union and management is the greatest threat to the future of the base. How would you assess that relationship within your organization, and what is being done to improve it?

ANSWER: Let me give you my view on that relationship. It’s critical. This is my second depot, and if our union partner is fully aligned with where we are going, then we are operating beautifully. Mr. Tom Scott, our union president, and I share this view. We want to maintain a relationship that’s built on trust, confidence, respect, but balances mission and people. That’s our focus. What we’ve agreed is that we’ve got to work this together and continue to be open and communicate.

We took seriously, what I considered good feedback, that perhaps some of the management doesn’t understand the labor/management agreement. And so part of what we have done is we have trained 100 percent of our management. Some would say, if you go talk to them, “That crazy general made me go take an exam and wouldn’t let me out of that exam until I got a 90 or above on the exam.” That’s how serious we are that our people understand the agreement and holding the leadership team accountable in walking in accordance with the agreement.

QUESTION: Before you came here, you did pretty much the same job at Tinker Air Force Base. So you probably know as well as anyone how the state of labor/management relations here compare to Tinker. From your experiences at the two depots, do you think the disparity in the number of grievances filed reflects a disparity in the state of management/union relations?

ANSWER: What I can tell you is this management team is committed to being a good partner. What I can tell you is this team is committed to maintaining that partnership. We can’t do it any other way because if we don’t, we won’t be successful, and we won’t be competitive. Like any relationship, we have got to continue to talk to each other and engage one another. I do a weekly meeting with the union president. I think as we get more and more comfortable doing that, I think we will see a move toward resolving issues at the lowest level.

I think we’ve got a relationship we’ve got to work on here. I will tell you the process of how grievances are filed is the same at both locations. I don’t think there is a disparity of how they are calculated. I think what we’ve got to do is continue to build a relationship that’s built on trust, confidence and respect in each other. I think if we do that, you will see those grievance numbers go down, and they are going down.

QUESTION: I know you can’t speculate about a potential new Base Realignment and Closure Commission, but the Air Force has estimated there is a 24 percent excess of infrastructure, and the Pentagon has said something is going to have to be done about that whether there is a BRAC or not. What more can the base and the community do to better position itself to keep the missions it has or gain missions through whatever the Air Force may do to reduce infrastructure?

ANSWER: First, you are exactly right, I cannot speculate on the BRAC. It’s a refined process, and I think it’s a great process to do a base realignment and closure. What I will tell you is this community needs to do what it is already doing. We need to continue to understand and support this great mission and this great set of mission partners here. An example would be the generation of $30 million to resolve the encroachment issues.

The other thing that is a force multiplier is that they go beyond just saying they want to help, and having a slogan, Every Day in Middle Georgia is Armed Forces Appreciation Day, to actually walking that out in a way that is so beautifully done. I grew up in the military, and I have 26 years in the Air Force, and I have seen nothing like this. When this community says, “We are here to help,” they will bend over backward to make it happen. We’ve got to be careful what we ask them to do, because if we do, they will go make it happen.

The last thing I would say on that is, we ought not to get complacent, and by the way, this community is not complacent. We ought not to ever assume that things will be. We’ve got to continue to stretch ourselves as a community. You see this all around Middle Georgia with bringing in new capabilities.

QUESTION: What is your and your family’s favorite thing to do in Middle Georgia?

ANSWER: Wow, that’s a hard question. We’ve gone out to the local farms and picked produce. It’s been neat for the girls. For me, I think Liz and I have made lifetime friends. In just a year, not naming any names, but there have been some really neat relationships that have formed. I can tell you in one year, I have made some friends for life.

QUESTION: One thing a lot of people may not know is that you have to pass the physical fitness test just like any other airman. So I was thinking, since you dusted your competition in the high heel race at the Cherry Blossom Festival, that maybe you wouldn’t mind telling us what you scored on your last test.

ANSWER: We have a scale of 100, and let’s just say I did real well. I did more than pass. But yeah, you brought up another one. That was a lot of fun. I did get roped into it by my good friend Gen. McMahon, but that was a lot of fun. I’ve got pictures of it on Facebook that will last forever now.

QUESTION: What will be your priorities in the coming year?

ANSWER: I am going to stay the course on really those four things I talked about. Our customers, our sons and daughters in harm’s way, expect us to deliver the aircraft, commodities and software they need to win our nation’s wars. There can be no backing down from that.

But if we are going to be competitive, if we are going to build a set of systems and a science of doing depot maintenance that’s not just a flash in the pan, that’s not two years of excellence and then we backslide. We’ve got to improve our performance, and the way we are doing that is we are fully aligned with the sustainment center and all of the tools that come with being a part of the sustainment center, but then we’ve got to gain efficiencies. We’ve got to increase our touch time on all the work we do. In the production lines, anytime you are putting your hand on the actual work, that’s touch time.

We’ve got to cut down on people walking around trying to look for tools, techniques and data. We’ve got to decrease their walking, wandering around looking for things, and then waiting for parts.

In (fiscal 2014) you will see us continue to examine our labor rates. How do you ensure that you have the most competitive labor rates for this business that we do here? We can’t allow ourselves to go, “Well our rates are what rates are.” Everybody wants to do our business. We have to earn the right to do whatever heavy maintenance, C2ISR, whatever software work, whatever avionics work needs to be done around the world.

QUESTION: What is something about the base that most people don’t know that you would like for them to know?

ANSWER: I think it’s in that C2ISR -- Command, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance -- and understanding that’s a force multiplier for Middle Georgia. We currently do workload in that area. A lot of it is classified, but I think we have the potential to really grow and expand that capability here in Middle Georgia. I don’t think there’s a lot of knowledge of what that means. There’s the aircraft (unmanned aerial vehicles), but it’s also the software piece of that, which is how do we make (modifications) to those type of aircraft. Can you test that? Can you troubleshoot? Can you assist with missions all over the world? The capability to do that, I believe, is a force multiplier for Middle Georgia. We already have pretty credible capability, but it’s small scale. We need to make sure we grow that capability.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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