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Why do we do that?

Staff Sgt. Brett Mattmiller, 821st Security Forces Squadron, patrols the main road to Thule Air Base’s missile warning and space surveillance site. The vast terrain the Arctic Defenders secure on a daily basis can be seen in the background. New operations procedures have saved the squadron patrol miles as well as cutting fuel costs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Clinton Ellis)

Staff Sgt. Brett Mattmiller, 821st Security Forces Squadron, patrols the main road to Thule Air Base’s missile warning and space surveillance site. The vast terrain the Arctic Defenders secure on a daily basis can be seen in the background. New operations procedures have saved the squadron patrol miles as well as cutting fuel costs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Clinton Ellis)

THULE AIR BASE, Greenland -- The Arctic Defenders at Thule AB are dominating the high ground with innovative ways to reduce risk, secure resources and save taxpayer dollars. New ideas garnered from professional reading and operational experiences are driving factors for our innovation. Through this approach, the Arctic Defenders have not only achieved savings in fuel consumption but also reduced unnecessary time behind the wheel and increased on the job training to better secure the Thule defense area.

The chief of staff of the Air Force reading list, and in particular many of the ideas shared in the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek, have influenced our incremental improvements. Leadership is absolutely crucial at every level of our organizational chart in order to build a focus for the entire team to follow. In addition to book knowledge, our leaders also added real life experiences to our task, further developing our focus. Although Simon Sinek's book is focused on the civilian industry, the value of these lessons translates to any organization, even an operational military unit like the 821st SFS.

When personnel arrive on station in Thule, each Arctic Defender is challenged with the task of leaving Thule better than he or she found it. Our role at Thule AB is to defend the base and dominate our high ground through integrated defense which in turn enables a safe and secure environment for mission success at the northernmost U.S. installation, referenced by us as securing the "Top of the World." We take on this responsibility with pride since we know it allows Team Thule to focus on our installation missions of missile warning, space surveillance, satellite command and control operations as well as support to NATO and ARCTIC operations. In an effort to provide the best and smartest operations possible in this dynamic environment, we took on a new initiative to strengthen our integrated defense.

The initiative started with an AFSO-21 style event to research why we do what we do and to eliminate any extraneous work that is not contributing to law enforcement, security, force protection or mission success. Staff Sgt. Brett Mattmiller provided a very insightful observation by stating, "when I was here in 2003 we did not do a lot of these measures, and there are no AFI's or guidance driving the increased workload." His observation and historical perspective not only enforced the tone but energized the unit to look at the unit mission in a new way. The 821st SFS noncommissioned officers came together as a team and systematically studied each of our current operations procedures to understand its applicability. The scrubbing process began with a line by line review which allowed us to look at all of our security operations to determine why we do each measure and how it impacts the mission.

After our research was complete, the group determined a cut line of what requirements could be reduced or completely eliminated while still maintaining compliance with directives and exceeding security standards. Often times the question "why do we do that?" is answered with, "that's the way it's always been done" or "it follows the AFI." Through the hard work of this team NCOs, a solution was reached to eliminate the additional work not required by directives. The new approach was implemented in early July.

Within the first month, the new approach drove significant cost savings and reduced vehicle usage. Not only did our efforts enable smarter and more effective integrated defense operations, the squadron saved $1,000 in fuel costs, drove 4,000 less miles than the previous month and returned 160 man hours to the squadron. When calculated annually, not only are the miles lower on the vehicles, but the associated maintenance costs are expected to drop as well. In the month of June, the unit used approximately 1,900 gallons of fuel. In July, after implementation, we cut the unit's fuel consumption in half to approximately 1,000 gallons of fuel.

In an operational environment 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, extreme Arctic conditions pose a truly hazardous work environment for tactical response at least nine months out of the year. With 40 percent of the unit's Airmen arriving on station at an average age of 19, safety is crucial for their well being while on patrol. In response to the implementation of the new operations, Airman 1st Class Tyler Santos describes it best by saying it's a "smart move because a lot of our drivers are inexperienced behind the wheel." Additionally, the elimination of unnecessary tasks will allow our Airmen to focus on training and exercises that will better prepare them for contingency operations.

In as little as one month, the Arctic Defenders have found ways to enhance our mission effectiveness through education and innovation. They reduced fuel consumption, increased on the job training as well as overall resiliency -- all while exceeding installation security requirements. Being innovative can be as simple as asking the question "Why do we do that?" Such a question can enable you to take a hard look at your internal processes and modify them to maximize the capabilities of your Airmen. In the case of the 821st SFS, innovation enables us to live up to our unit motto, "It takes the best to defend the rest!"

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui