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AFSO21 -- Trainers evaluate discharge process to save time, funds

Colonel O’Donnell adds a note to the value stream map for the process.

Colonel O’Donnell adds a note to the value stream map for the process.

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Maximizing value and minimizing waste ... that's what Air Force Smart Operations 21 is all about. 

AFSO21 is an Air Force initiative that challenges people to look at ways to accomplish the Air Force mission more effectively and efficiently while maintaining quality and safety standards. 

The 81st Training Group began its AFSO21 journey Feb. 27 through March 2 by tackling a costly and time-consuming action -- the Airman discharge process. 

Capt. Scott Lamont, Keesler AFSO21 program manager, said the team was guided by questions posed by Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne:
-- How can we do each task better?
-- Why are we doing it this way?
-- Is each task relevant, productive and value added?
-- Is it necessary at all? 

Team members represented units involved in the student discharge process -- 81st TRG, 81st Medical Group, 81st Mission Support and Comptroller squadrons, legal office and 2nd Air Force. 

Lt. Col. Matt O'Donnell, 332nd Training Squadron director of operations, served as team leader. He praised Maj. Ken Theriot from Air Education and Training Command, who trained the team so members could implement "lean tools" to the process. 

Lean tools include various techniques and concepts designed to help the Air Force with its improvement strategy. 

To guide its deliberations, the team used one of the lean tools, value stream mapping, a technique that identifies wasted time or resources within a process. VSM defines the steps of the process, data pertinent to each step and overall metrics. 

The resulting map shows how information flows, where repetition occurs and where quality issues result. For this project, the team charted the sequence from student test failures to discharge, with the estimated time for each step. 

"The training was an eye-opening experience for the team -- it makes you look at things in a different way," Colonel O'Donnell pointed out. "We started looking for better ways to do everything. We discovered one of the big benefits of doing the airman discharge process was that we could now see what it involved from start to finish -- we had never captured that before. 

"I knew my piece of the pie and everybody else knew their piece, but no one knew how they all fit together -- now we do," he added. 

Currently, about 250 Keesler trainees go through the discharge process annually. The process takes 32.2 days at a daily cost of $137.50 per Airman. The total cost per Airman is $4,428, for a grand total of $1.1 million each year. 

By mapping and annotating the existing procedure involving multiple interviews, signatures, checklists, in-boxes, out-boxes, transit time and non-working days, a clearer picture came into focus. 

The team determined whether each step was necessary or added no value to the process. 

"From that foundation, we worked to make the process far more efficient," Colonel O'Donnell said. 

An action plan was devised with nine proposed solutions that fell into one of three descriptive categories -- just do it, rapid improvement event and project -- along with an estimated start date and person in charge. 

"We came up with a two-stage end process," Colonel O'Donnell explained. "The first part involves changes we know we can make and will work to implement quickly." 

If the process is accomplished according to plan, it will take 18.2 calendar days, instead of the current 32.2 days, to discharge a trainee. Keesler would save $481,355, or 43.4 percent, for a streamlined process that costs $625,761 annually, rather that the current $1.1 million. 

Colonel O'Donnell said the second stage involves making the discharge process completely electronic. 

"When we get to that point, we can save an additional $137,500 each year on top of the savings resulting from the first stage of the change," the colonel stated. 

The evaluation was based on the discharge process for the 332nd TRS, but Captain Lamont indicated that there are plans to standardize and implement the results across the 81st TRG. 

Brig. Gen. Paul Capasso, 81st Training Wing commander, was briefed March 2. Col. Deborah Van De Ven, 81st TRG commander, was involved in the team's efforts and is responsible for implementation of the plan.