TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The Air Force Sustainment Center was created in 2012 to streamline the sustainment needs for weapon systems from around the world, evaluating their status, stripping them down, repairing, re-assembling and painting them, and getting them back in the air as quickly as possible.
The U.S. Air Force was challenged by the U.S. Congress during the Sequestration budget crisis to find more efficient ways of operating. What was once only an idea coalesced into a real possibility on a 2011 flight from Afghanistan to the U.S., when a four-star general brought the subject up to a plane of commanders.
“We told the general, there’s a concept we’ve been thinking about for 10 years prior,” said then-Maj. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, “and that is to take a more enterprise approach to how we do business in the Air Force Materiel Command. That was the generation of the thought that `now is the time to do something different’. So the five-center construct was born.”
As the concept of the five centers under AFMC matured (eventually expanding to a sixth center), leaders decided to look past simply consolidating locations and creating efficiencies in workflow and to look at how the U.S. Air Force could get the most potential out of national assets and capabilities and the human capital that were already in place.
Lt. Gen. Tom Miller, current AFSC commander, who was a colonel at the time, co-led a team of 50 officers and senior civilians tasked with the creation of the Air Force Sustainment Center. “We wanted to make sure we would do no harm to the mission we were doing as we were transforming,” said Miller. “We threw a big net to hear voices from all locations and there were numerous incredible leaders that worked tirelessly to make sure that the creation went in the right direction.”
“No one likes change,” added Litchfield, “but by giving leaders a chance to build their own organization and processes, to create the tools they needed and to utilize their leadership skills, they went from skeptics to advocates.
“The biggest reward is seeing what was put into play 10 years ago still being used today.”
On July 10, 2012, the AFSC was officially activated at a ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, with Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, officiating. Litchfield, commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at the time, was promoted to lieutenant general and installed as commander of AFSC. The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, Ogden Air Logistics Center and Warner Robins Air Logistics Center were designated as complexes and realigned under AFSC along with two supply chain wings and three air base wings.
Today, AFSC provides sustainment for the Air Force’s most sophisticated weapons systems, including fighter jets F-35 Lightning, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon and F-22 Raptor; refueling planes KC-46 Pegasus and KC-135 Stratotanker; the attack airplane A-10 Thunderbolt; bombers B-1 Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress; cargo planes C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules; early warning planes E-3 Sentry and E-6 Mercury; trainer T-38 Talon; unmanned aerial vehicle QF-16; Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile; as well as a wide range of engines and component parts.
AFSC is headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base, providing oversight of maintenance, supply chain activities and installation support. Staff offices help ensure planning, policy, guidance and procedures are effectively implemented and executed for the center.
In addition to Hill AFB, Tinker AFB and Robins AFB, around 20 satellite locations help support the Air Force Sustainment Center, including Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
All AFSC activities are guided by the Art of the Possible, a model enabling AFSC to achieve significant results while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. “Art of the Possible was implemented as the approach across the Center in everything we do. It is essentially the playbook for us attack constraints to our mission and to speak the same language,” shared Miller. It reflects collective experiences, lessons learned, best practices, acumen and important content on how Art of the Possible is applied to every work area in sustainment, he added.
To prepare for the next 10 years, AFSC is focusing on Airmen, both uniformed and civilian.
“We need talent as diverse as the challenges we face as a nation,” said Miller. “We must continue to break down barriers to ensure we have a military and civilian workforce that looks like the country we serve. This is how we will succeed in facing our future challenges.”
Litchfield agrees. “We cannot over emphasize the importance of civil servants and what they mean to this Air Force. Artisans, mechanics, professionals, technicians, engineers, supply chain professionals, and production specialists are the heart and glue of sustainment. We will make it better tomorrow than it is today; better next week than today.”
AFSC is leveraging partnerships with industry and academia to accelerate innovation throughout their processes and create opportunities for knowledge sharing, growth and efficiency.
To usher in the next decade, AFSC will welcome a new commander this fall. Maj. Gen. Stacey T. Hawkins has been confirmed to be promoted to lieutenant general and will be the new commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center later this year. Hawkins currently serves as director of logistics, engineering and force protection at Air Combat Command. With a deep background in maintenance operations and in AFSC, Hawkins previously served at Tinker in 2012 and 2013 as the deputy commander for maintenance at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and as the commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex Commander from 2017 to 2019.
Litchfield and Miller are looking forward to what the AFSC will look like in another 10 years. While the manner of defense changes with the state of the world, they both have faith that supporting and defending the nation through sustainment will make it a better and stronger place.