Innovation with Airmen’s morale in mind

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christopher Quail
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said the Air Force must think of new ways to innovate over the coming decades to ensure it’s ready to win wars.

In order to remain ready to win, 436th Maintenance Group Airmen requested increased availability of physical fitness facilities and the opportunity to use them.

Feedback commanders received via the Defense Organizational Climate Survey outlined the need to have greater availability of physical fitness equipment for Airmen who work on the flight line. This theme across the maintenance squadrons prompted commanders to take funding allocated to each squadron, and instead of utilizing it individually, pool $80,000 into one pot to meet the needs of the Airmen within the entire maintenance group.

The new gym, dubbed “Maximum Lift” following a naming contest within the maintenance group, opened in early September, following a six-month developmental process.

“I am grateful [for] all the support from other agencies, as well as my leadership, in making this happen,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam Olson, 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Home Station Check dock chief. “At least three to four agencies helped us with donating some of their innovation funds.”

Olson, who helped throughout the entire project, drew inspiration for the new gym from deployment experiences, during which he observed that morale was always high.

“We have the work side down here … but for a long time, the perception was that the morale was really sagging,” said Olson. “On the other hand, across the pond, being deployed, we call it a working vacation, because the morale is so high over there. We take care of each other so well over there. I was trying to find any and all aspects that I could find in the deployed environment that boosted morale to bring here. One of the main things is having our own gym (close by), where we could all go work out together and still being easily contacted if needed.”

Maximum Lift quickly became a priority for all commanders within the 436th MXG and an opportunity to take care of their Airmen.

Lt. Col. Jason Purcell, 436th AMXS commander, said the gym provides opportunity and flexibility for the Airmen and called it a win for the entire maintenance group.

“We listened and were able to take action,” he said, reiterating that Airmen’s feedback played a vital role in gaining support from Col. Joel Safranek, 436th Airlift Wing commander, and other wing leaders to turn this idea into reality.

Even after funding was approved, many Airmen were hesitant to show excitement, as oftentimes, processes don’t see the finish line.

“We were optimistically reserved when funding was approved,” said Purcell. “Then boxes started showing up, and our guys started realizing ‘our bosses are serious.’”

Since its completion, commanders have received positive feedback from their Airmen.

“We recently had a promotion ceremony and commander’s call and had the seats facing the new gym,” said Maj. Kevin Scholz, 736th AMXS commander. “There were a lot of smiles (when they saw the gym).”

Scholz stated that when he first enlisted in the Air Force more than 27 years ago, the only requirement his leadership seemed to care about was being good at your job. Fitness wasn’t as important as being a good technician. Now, you can’t just be a good technician, you have to be physically fit and deployable. This entire process was an opportunity for commanders to “walk the walk.”

“We listen, and care about our Airmen, and we acted on what they said,” Scholz said. “We did this for our Airmen and their families, to help give time back to them and promote balance in their lives.”

The flight line is a 24/7 operation and members on shift need to be available if called upon. Having the gym in close proximity to duty locations keeps Airmen accessible if the call comes in for support.

“Most of the time we come out in uniform and work out,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, 436th AMXS communication navigations and electronic warfare journeyman. “It’s nice to have this gym here, because I can bring my radio with me and hear it if they call out for a plane.”

Having that flexibility and readiness at all times is just part of being in the maintenance career field. With just over 1,800 Airmen assigned to the 436th Maintenance Group, deployments within the unit are frequent, and physical fitness, as well as an overall balance of life, plays a key role in readiness.

“Any given day, we have over 100 Airmen deployed,” said Col. Chris May, 436th MXG commander. “Comprehensive Airmen Fitness is important, and (physical fitness) is one of the things we have to get right. This is giving time back to the Airmen. When they leave their shift, now they can get after their professional military education or spend some time with their families.”

Olson gave credit to his leadership for their involvement and said “Maximum Lift” will be a major boost in morale and comradery.

“It is easy to say we care about you,” he said. “It’s easy to say we are doing things for you, but this is an actual resource that is put here, an actual, ‘Hey, this is for you, literally put here for you, to make sure you are taken care of – and we mean it.’”