MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL AIR RESERVE STATION, MINN. --
“Drive innovation…to secure our future” is one of the Air Force’s Strategic priorities. “Empower Airmen to Lead, Inspire, Develop and Achieve” is a priority that has been set by the leadership of the 934th Airlift Wing. Tech. Sgt. Matthew Fors, 934th senior munitions inspector, and his team of munitions Airmen have recently driven some innovations which prove that these aren’t just slogans or buzzwords to be shown at staff meetings or posted on bulletin boards.
Fors developed a way of reutilizing assets to save the wing and the Air Force significant time and money in munitions operations. He looked for ways within established channels to make expired munitions approved to be used for training purposes. Fors said, “We have these assets and we have requirements for training and readiness, so why not see if there is a way to get them approved for training use?”
“We inspected munitions items and didn’t find any defects, but they were technically expired,” he said. The Items inspected included small arms ammo, chaff and flare and signal kits provided to aircrew by Aircrew Flight Equipment. Fors explained that the easy path is just to call the items bad and turn them in for disposal or destruction when they have expired. But he thought that there could be a better use for them. “I reached out to the item manager and equipment specialist to see if they thought we could use them for training. I thought that in these times of limited funds and increased training requirements there must be a way to make good use of these assets.” Fors was able to receive approval to reclassify the assets for training use only. “We were able to use the chaff and flare for aircrew training and proficiency and small arms ammunition for security forces proficiency training and qualification.”
This reclassification was key, according to Col. Kenneth Rose, 934th Maintenance Group commander. “Being able to recapitalize those munitions will provide savings for years to come,” he said. “But we never would have got there if Matt (TSgt Fors) first didn’t ask the what-if question. It is what innovative thinkers do. As it turns out, we save more than just dollars, thanks to Matt.”
Using the munitions for training also eliminates the need to requisition and purchase new items and reduces the cost and manpower to pack and ship items for the wing transportation office. “We can just do a little extra work on the front end and put the assets into the proper condition code to utilize them for training,” said Fors.
One of the jobs of the munitions section is to maintain the serviceability of all munitions assets. They support aircrew members, Security Forces, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Civil Engineers, Supply, Air Crew Flight Equipment and the Office of Special Investigations. In order to give these customers the best product, Fors created a spreadsheet program that gives 100 percent real time tracking information on what is coming up for expiration. It allows munitions Airmen to see what can be extended and what is coming up for inspection cycles. The sheet also identifies items that do need to be disposed of, reducing hazards that people are exposed to. Fors took an existing requirement to track items and made it real time, reducing man hours needed. “One person can do the tracking instead of tasking multiple people to go out, find items and report back what their service lives or shelf lives are,” explained Fors. “It gives certainty and confidence to leadership and users that they are getting a product that is good and serviceable.”
Before the new procedures were in place, munitions personnel would request items for operations, but as they expired, had to request additional items for training. “Some of these items like the flares and chaff are fairly expensive,” said Fors. “We are responsible for physically and financially for assets that support our mission.”
Fors estimates that last year the wing saved roughly $300,000 by reclassifying the munitions and using them for training. Security Forces is one example where savings was achieved. “They primarily use ammunition and some of it gets dinged up quite a bit from all the loading and unloading. We had a plan to swap everything over, we gave them all new ammo and they turned in about 4,000 rounds,” said Fors. “It would have been easy to just turn in all 4,000 rounds for destruction. But Master Sgt. Tony Gamboni, myself and about four other people inspected every single bullet. It took about half a day, and we found 10 that had to be destroyed, but the rest could be reused. So just the cost of the ammo was about $2,500 not including the savings from packing, shipping and destroying the old ammo and requisitioning and shipping the new ammo. I think it’s our responsibility to be resourceful in trying to make the most effective use of these assets.”
“When we have expired explosives that have to be disposed of, we go out and assist our local EOD,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, munitions inspector. “By doing this, EOD receives training in explosive disposal, while we save time and costs in not having to pack and ship the expired items somewhere else for disposal.”
“In January, Staff Sgt Peter Grant and myself participated in a munitions conference at Robins AFB, Ga.,” said Fors. “Our ideas are being shared with other units. There is an initiative within the Reserve Command to come up with best practices. We are trying to collaborate with others in the command to do things better, do things more efficiently, to take care of the resources we are allocated. Our fleet and equipment are getting older and we feel if we can save $300,000 at the 934th, sharing this with other units in AFRC, and other commands throughout the Air Force, could really have a significant impact.”
Fors attributes much of the success of the program to his fellow munitions Airmen and those in his chain of command. “My flight chief, Sergeant Grant, Chief Bystadt, Chief Kvamme, Col. Rose and Col. Polashek, have all supported us and showed they trust us to move forward and pursue these ideas. Not without question, but to think freely and creatively within established guidelines. We are able to go out and do this locally and potentially command wide.”
“I haven’t re-written an AFI or Technical Order, but have been able to work within guidelines to be more efficient, Fors explained. “When an asset is expired, it is expired. I cannot just say, let’s go ahead and just use it. I have to complete the appropriate paperwork and submit it for approval through the item managers and equipment specialists before it can be reclassified as usable for training only.”
Fors efforts have not gone unnoticed as he was recognized at this years’ Civil Servant of the Year ceremony sponsored by the Minnesota Federal Executive Board. Here, he was recognized as innovator of the year for the 934th Airlift Wing and then went on to win the innovation award for all Federal Agencies in Minnesota. “Receiving the awards was very humbling and motivating,” said Fors.
"We're very proud of Tech. Sgt. Fors for the great work he has done with his team, and I'm grateful for the recognition of his accomplishments by his chain of command that put him in for the awards,” said Col. Anthony Polashek, 934th Airlift Wing commander. “This kind of work is exactly in line with Lt. Gen. Miller’s direction to ‘make every dollar count’, and in these times of constrained resources, this innovation enables us to support valuable training for a lot less. TSgt Fors has been a great example to our Airmen, he saw an opportunity to help, and seized the initiative to make something better, and had a great positive impact on our wing as a result. We often say that those closest to the problem generally come up with the best solutions, and I think this is an excellent example of that. Skol Vikings!"
“The most important thing I have learned is to help the next round of troops by doing what my leadership did for me,” said Fors. “They have always encouraged open discussion to bring about new ideas. My leadership allowed me to think outside the box but still be in compliance with the regs. This is what allowed me to do what I did last year, and continue to do it. One of the things my mentors have taught me is the importance of training your replacement. My goal there is to allow the next Airmen coming up to have the freedom and creative space to continue the innovation.”