WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Vaccines, telework, diversity and more were addressed during the Air Force Materiel Command Virtual Town Hall, Jan. 7, which streamed live to a maxed-out audience of more than 3,000 via ZoomGov.
AFMC Commander, Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., was joined by Patricia Young, AFMC executive director, and Chief Master Sgt. David Flosi, AFMC command chief, for the two-hour event where they fielded questions from Airmen across the enterprise.
“AFMC is the most important MAJCOM in the United States Air Force. It's not because we do it for us; it's because everything we do is for somebody else, and you're doing a remarkable job,” said Bunch during opening remarks. “I could take every bit of time that we have allotted for this town hall and go over what you accomplished in 2021, but we want to hear from you and what's on your mind.”
More than 200 questions were fielded during the live event, with a large number focused on the current efforts related to the coronavirus pandemic and vaccinations. Questions focused largely on vaccine compliance and the status of exemption requests for both military and civilian personnel.
“We’re still in a fight against COVID. Even one death is too many,” said Bunch. “Vaccines are our best effort. When you couple that with physical distancing, mask wear and our other mitigation factors, it is our best attempt to minimize the spread of COVID. I encourage you to make sure you're getting the right information about the vaccines and consider taking it.”
Bunch took time to explain the religious exemption process timelines and in-place requirements for those awaiting request approvals. He emphasized the importance of considering each exemption request individually, ensuring the command gives due diligence to each case while maintaining an eye towards mission readiness.
“It is taking longer than many of us wanted. [Requests are] far greater than we have executed in the past, and our system does not have the flexibility to adapt and ingest that many of those requests and do them in the regular timeline,” said Bunch. “We understand it's weighing on your minds, and we are working through these as expeditiously as we can… to make sure we're looking at each one of them on a case-by-case basis, so that we are following and giving you due process as we go through that review.”
He also explained why it is important to consider exemptions carefully alongside readiness and deployment needs.
“The other part of the calculus that we have to weigh out is readiness, unit cohesion, good order, and discipline … our ability to keep unit cohesion and [the mission] moving forward--those are all factors that weigh in,” said Bunch. “When we recently had the Afghan evacuees come in…how much time, do you think, many of the individuals got before they had to deploy to be able to provide support? Many of them got less than 24 hours. There's not time to quarantine. There's not a time to go through a vaccination regimen. All of those are things that we are weighing out and looking at as we go through this.”
COVID-related discussion also touched on booster mandates, civilian exemption protocol, large-scale gatherings and on-going requirements for testing for those awaiting vaccine exemption approvals. Mask wear, social distancing and quarantining, if exposed to the virus, were emphasized as precautions individuals can undertake to help minimize the virus spread.
Telework and remote work topics were also key interest items during the town hall, with the leadership team addressing questions related to policy, guidance and future plans.
“We have demonstrated over the last two years that telework does work, and it gives the flexibility that our workforce was looking for,” said Young. “It's not an entitlement. It's a tool to make work more effective, and as long as the performance is still generated and meeting mission, then telework can work. It's up to the supervisor and the leadership and the employees to make it work successfully.”
Young spoke on recent updates to AFMC telework guidance, to include the signed Council 214 Memorandum of Agreement, which authorizes physical fitness time during telework and sets a 10-day timeline for agreement finalization. Young also stressed the importance of understanding both AFMC as well as Air Force regulations. She also addressed some of the ongoing challenges related to telework and remote work, particularly related to employee acculturation and workplace culture when teams are not meeting face-to-face on a daily basis.
“We learned a lot of incredible lessons from having summer interns and summer hires and the effect that telework has on them. Many came back and said, ‘you know, a telework internship is not for me. I didn't feel the connection. I didn't build any networks. It was just very hard in a summer to feel part of a team,’” said Young. “It was a great learning curve, for us, and we are looking at those things … to supervise interns … how do we get their buy in? How do we make them feel included?”
Following a brief discussion on the advances in information technology capabilities and ongoing efforts to improve the IT experience across the enterprise, the town hall transitioned to topics related to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility--a top priority for Bunch and the AFMC enterprise. Leaders addressed ongoing successes and provided clarification to recent policy changes related to the DEIA effort.
“We started after this effort so that every Airman has the opportunity to perform to his or her full potential. That's what this is about--so that we have the greatest mission impact moving forward. Our differences make us stronger,” said Bunch.
He explained the rationale behind the centralized hiring effort for entry level positions, an effort to parallel the process for the civilian side to that used by uniformed personnel.
“To ease the burden of the first level supervisor--that's part number one. Part number two … my intent is to remove conscious and unconscious bias. What I am doing is applying what we do on the uniform side and have done for many years. The belief is that we have a developmental system ... that we can bring people in, and we will nurture them into our environment, and we will train them, and they will turn into the Airmen we need,” said Bunch.
He also addressed the impacts of diversity in award nominations and the importance of having demographically-diverse selection committees.
“I wanted to see, as the awards float in, are they reflective of our overall workforce? I believe we need a panel to look at [award submissions], and it needs to be a diverse panel, so that way we're treating everyone fairly. What we are trying to get a sense of is, are people getting a fair opportunity to compete? And are we fairly running the panels, such that we are carrying forward that fairness and equitability?” said Bunch.
He reemphasized that command awards are based on performance in relation to the mission, and that they are awarded to those high-performers who best meet the criteria, regardless of demographic background.
Flosi, who recently took on the role of AFMC Command Chief, had an opportunity to talk about some of the upcoming changes to policies and Professional Military Education that will impact Airmen in the near term and help the service maintain the readiness it needs to win the future fight.
“We're looking at Airman-leadership qualities across the uniformed service, and we're looking at those qualities as attributes that we need to continue to pivot towards for our new pacing challenges. In order to incentivize those qualities, we need to measure them, assess to them, and we needed to develop those qualities in our force,” said Flosi. “We're working on changes to our Professional Military Education, our feedback process, our evaluation system process ... on both the enlisted and the officer side to be deliberate in the way that we develop our force to be ready and to continue to stay ready for the challenges that we may face.”
The AFMC leaders also addressed topics related to hiring and talent management, the impacts of cost of living increases, digital campaign advances and the critical importance of resiliency on Airman readiness during the live event.
The link to the complete town hall video and transcript is available for internal audiences through leadership channels.
“Thank you for what you're doing. It is an honor and a privilege for us to get to work for you, and we work for you, so, please keep up all the great work. It is critically important to not only our command, and not only our Air Force, but also the Department of Defense and our allies,” said Bunch to conclude the event. “We are one AFMC, powering the world's greatest Air Force.”
Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., Air Force Materiel Command Commander and Chief Master Sgt. David Flosi, AFMC Command Chief, answer questions during the AFMC Town Hall, Jan. 7, 2022.