When Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. took command of the Air Force Materiel Command on May 31, 2019, his first goal was to get “regrounded” in the diverse missions and responsibilities spread across AFMC’s six centers and 87,000 Airmen.
“When I came here, I thought I understood the command since I was part of it when it was started in 1992, and I spent most of my career in it. What I learned is that there is so much more that goes on that I needed to understand more deeply,” Bunch said.
During a year that has included an Air Force-wide focus on modernization, lethality and readiness through faster, more agile business processes, the ability of AFMC to successfully meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy was a major focus of Bunch’s first year as commander.
“Our Airmen play a key role in every facet and aspect of what the Air Force is doing. Watching them execute missions this year has only reinforced how important AFMC is to the successful execution of the NDS and driving to the Air Force we need,” Bunch said.
Making “listening” an early priority, his first big action was to launch the AFMC We Need initiative, an enterprise-wide effort that solicited feedback and recommendations from Airmen, both uniformed and non-uniformed, across the command to better posture the command for success in achieving the goals of the NDS now and in the decades to come. The effort, which yielded more than 88,000 inputs, continues to drive changes in processes, business practices, personnel management, training and more, leveraging innovative ideas and solutions from the ground up.
“Initially we had Airmen who weren’t really sure we were going to take actions with the AFMC We Need, and to many of them, my message was to ‘find out where no lives and squash it.’ As we’ve moved forward, we’re seeing some initial results of the effort begin to play out and have others in work,” Bunch said.
Some of these results include the implementation of the AFMC Acculturation program for new hires, standardization of newcomer onboarding processes, a new supervisor development course and a command-wide IdeaScale Campaign to source innovative ideas for continued improvement to processes and practices across the mission set. A Commander’s Accelerated Initiatives Office was established under the AFMC deputy commander to continually source, track and implement changes.
“We continue to make sure we’re making the right investments and are implementing the right strategies to make sure we can get our mission done. We continue to mine for additional good ideas,” Bunch said.
These investments include efforts to improve information technology infrastructure as well as the modernization of facilities across the command footprint.
Among other big successes this year, Bunch mentioned is the progress on the rebuild of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, in the wake of Hurricane Michael in 2018, mission testing of the HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopter, advances in hypersonics, updates to female defender gear, the banner year for foreign military sales and the reduction in cost per flying hour of the F-35A Lightning II.
He also lauded the command-wide effort to support requirements born out of the recent coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the innovative work of research, program, test and sustainment teams to find ways to keep missions on track, Bunch specifically praised the work of the command teams on the transport isolation system for travel of COVID-19 positive patients and the efforts of the Air Force Research Laboratory Epidemiology to test global COVID-19 samples in support of Department of Defense medical teams.
“We went from a statement of need to transport COVID-19 positive patients from in-theater on the back of a C-17 to capability cleared for use in just 3 weeks,” Bunch said.
Bunch also lauded the effort of the Air Force Sustainment Center Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources teams at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, in establishing a second base for basic training needs, ensuring the Air Force would continue to have a supply of talent. BEAR team Airmen can supply, train and build a fully operational airfield or base able to support up to 3,500 personnel and 75 aircraft within 22 days.
“Our teams received a request from AETC (Air Education and Training Command) for a BEAR base to train new recruits, and our Airmen had it set up and ready to go within 7 to 10 days. This was awesome work! Both of these initiatives brought together the collaborative efforts of our teams from across AFMC and the Air Force and demonstrates the power we bring to the fight,” Bunch said.
While Bunch’s first year was fruitful with mission success, he acknowledged the fact that there was still a lot to be done across the command.
“As we continue to work initiatives to push to the AFMC We Need, all of us need to help create workplaces where diverse ideas and individuals are treated with dignity, respect and fairness,” Bunch said. “It’s an issue I take very seriously, and we have to move out with tenacity and perseverance.”
Additionally, he discussed the continued drive to implement the Air Force Vanguards under the Science and Technology 2030 strategy. The strategy, finalized in April 2019, lays out a path forward for the Air Force Science and Technology ecosystem to deliver warfighting capabilities at the speed of relevance and necessity.
“We need to keep pushing forward on the implementation of the strategy and to stay focused on what the Air Force and Space Force need so we can be sure we’re meeting the priorities of our leaders across the services,” he said.
Bunch also discussed the recent launch of the AFMC Digital Campaign, a coordinated effort to create an integrated digital ecosystem to support the rapid development, testing, fielding and maintenance of complex weapon systems. The effort aims to achieve a digital ecosystem that supports agility, flexibility and speed in delivery of Air Force current and future needs.
“This will have far-reaching effects for our Air Force when we can get this implemented the right way,” Bunch said.
Through continued growth, change and innovation in AFMC mission execution will be a big part of Bunch’s second year in command. He reiterated that his No. 1 priority was to continue the focus on what AFMC Airmen need to successfully execute the command’s diverse mission.
Foremost, said Bunch, is ensuring Airmen have the correct foundation, training and development to be successful. This requires not only formal education and training, but it mandates that Airmen have the right tools, technology and modern facilities and IT infrastructure to execute the mission.
“Our facilities, restoration, sustainment and modernization accounts have been historically underfunded. We need to make sure the right investments are made to ensure we can support a modern, digital Air Force as we move forward,” Bunch said.
He also discussed manpower shortfalls and efforts to identify and prioritize manning needs across the command to ensure the AFMC has the breadth and depth of skilled talent to execute the command’s critical missions.
“Our Airmen are key to our mission, and they need to understand the importance of what they do for our nation,” he said.
Upon final reflection on his first year as AFMC commander, Bunch mentioned that the Airmen of AFMC are the foundation that the success of the command is built on, and the strong relationships the command maintains with community leaders across the U.S. play a vital role as well.
“I always knew community relations were important. What I learned this year is that without the great partnerships with our civic leaders, we cannot be successful. They help us to look at things from perspectives that we don’t always see as people in uniform,” he said.
As he enters the next phase of AFMC leadership, Bunch looks forward to the opportunities ahead. He embraces the privilege to lead the command as it provides the power behind the execution of the NDS for the Air Force and the nation.
“It’s my honor and privilege to get to work for all of the great Airmen across our command. Thank you for all that you do each day. I look forward to continuing to work with and for all of you,” he said.