Thompson reflects on his command of AFLCMC

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- As the final day of his command of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, approaches, Lt. Gen. John Thompson said it’s the people of the center he will miss the most.

Thompson’s new duty will be to serve as commander of the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, California. Lt. Gen. (Sel.) Robert McMurry, Air Force Research Laboratory commander, will succeed Thompson to lead the single center responsible for total life cycle management covering all aircraft, engines, munitions and electronic systems.

A grateful commander

Uppermost in Thompson’s mind is thanking AFLCMC’s workforce of 26,000 people, spread among 60 operating locations around the world.

“I want everyone to know it has truly been my honor to be commander of this truly awe-inspiring unit called the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center,” Thompson said. “So many times after the last two and a half years, I have been taken aback by just how talented and professional our workforce is.

“We have two customers we support – first and foremost, our warfighters with effective weapons systems, and our U.S. taxpayers as we acquire those weapons systems as efficiently as we can. No matter where you look in our portfolio, there are rock star-quality people doing exactly that every day,” he said.

Thompson had the opportunity to provide Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, with the names of AFMC, Air Force or Department of Defense-level awards for 2016. There were so many winners above the AFLCMC level, six charts – not one – had to be created, Thompson said.

“To be able to show six pages’ worth of winners for 2016 tells me there are hundreds of charts of people who probably deserved awards for their performance,” he said. “They were all contributing to the team, and that is what makes our Air Force the greatest air force on the planet.”

Big successes

The general said he has been extremely pleased with the number of successful contracting awards.

“It is amazing how well we have accomplished our mission of awarding contracts and the billions we have saved in cost initiatives,” he said, “and then returned that money to our warfighters to be able to procure something else.”

Thompson also pointed to the Air Force Cyber Campaign Plan as one of AFLCMC’s greatest individual achievements. Ensuring weapons systems are cyber resilient is now an AFLCMC core competency.

The Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems, often called CROWS, was officially stood up at Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts, in December.

“Cyber awareness is everybody’s responsibility. What makes us special – the secret sauce – is we have a very, very robust systems engineering process. We need to make sure cyber resiliency, or systems security engineering, is included in that process,” he said.

“All these different lines of action in the Cyber Campaign Plan, orchestrated by the CROWS office, are already paying us huge dividends.”

Another large success during Thompson’s command has been the increase in the number of small business contracts awarded.

The 78 percent growth since 2013 in small business wins has amazed him, he said.

“The small business awards are nearly $2 billion now. That’s due to not only the great people of the Small Business Office, but it has to do with everybody in the center and their focus on developing small business opportunities,” he said. “It’s a win-win for small businesses – the engine of the American economy – and us as we benefit from that service or product effectiveness.”

The amount of support to AFLCMC from large industry partners also has been gratifying, Thompson said.

“We provide the organize, train and equipment functions for the program executive officers so in some small part we can take credit for their incredible support to the warfighter,” he acknowledged.

Thompson also talked about the success AFLCMC has in foreign military sales. The $160-plus billion of case lines to 109 countries in FMS is big business, but those sales also build partnership capacity with current and future allies, Thompson commented.

“From a national security perspective, it’s very important we deliver on those promises we have made through FMS programs,” he said. “Those are critical for our national allies and by default, also very critical to us.”

Another area of success Thompson pointed to is strategic resources management.

“We have implemented a number of initiatives over the last two and a half years to ensure that our organize, train and equip functions are as successful as possible,” he said, while acknowledging manpower shortfalls that have led to standardized efficiencies and the reallocation of resources.

Challenges

The general said he would like to see continued improvement in FMS. An improvement program has been devised and shows great benefit in improving execution processes to be more efficient and more robust.

As for general personnel issues, Thompson pointed out competency gaps and the need to grow and develop personnel who are adroit at game-changing technologies.

“The center has to bring them in the gate and then transform them into the autonomy or human factors experts we need,” he said.

Results from a Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute survey are another source of concern for the general.

“One finding we’ve had is that a large percentage of our workforce – more than 30 percent – feels mentally ‘burned out’,” he said.

To combat this, each directorate within AFLCMC has developed an action plan to assist personnel in developing greater resilience and adapting to the workload that is necessary to accomplish the mission.

Airmen lift him up

Thompson said his “magic antidote” to the few bad days he has experienced is interfacing with someone like Senior Airman Sawyer McIntyre, a defender with the 88th Security Forces Squadron, who “has it together and is a rock star.”

“You come away with a new sense of what it is like to be an Airman and you’re in a great mood. People like him – military, civilian and contractor teammates – exist all over this center and are there to lift you up.”

The general said he likes to paraphrase a quote from the 1986 movie “Starman”: “‘When things are at their worst, you need to be at your best.’ I get to see that every day.”

Wishing his successor well

Thompson said he knows Lt. Gen. (Sel.) Robert McMurry will take the AFLCMC to even higher levels of performance, but he is thrilled his new job at Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center will still interface with the “superstar organization AFLCMC is.”

“That makes me happy,” he finished.