AFA Policy Forum
"Generating Focus—It's All About People"
General Hal M. Hornburg
Commander, Air Combat Command
Air & Space Conference 2004—Washington, DC
September 15, 2004
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General Hornburg: I want to commend the Air Force Association for developing a forum like this. I
think it's really good if we can encourage senior leaders to come forward and offer some perspective and some
ideas to the younger folks, and to make sure that we understand that part of the mantle of leadership is
bringing up more leaders and sharing our experiences. Some people say that's mentoring. I just think it's an
element of leadership. But the professional association of the Air Force is to be commended for giving us the
opportunity to come here and to give you all the opportunity to join us and to realize this is not an officer
association, it's an Air Force association. It's an association for Airmen—whether you're male, female, of
different color, whether you wear a uniform or a suit. If you're with us, then we're with you, and this is a
great organization and a great start I think to something that's going to pay great dividends in the future.
So to the leaders—Pat Condon, Don Peterson, John Politi and others—we thank you for this opportunity.
What I want to do is talk to you about Air Combat Command. But I want to talk to you about it in the
context of what we've done in the command and how we've tried to generate focus in the command and get all of
the men and women who comprise the Airmen of Air Combat Command to be one of only a few of the MAJCOMs who all
come together and in the name of Airmanship do something for the Air Force and in turn do something for our
nation. It's all about people.
We generate focus to accomplish things, but it's the people who become the fuel that drive Airmanship. It's
Airmen who make a difference.
Let me start by telling you a little bit about our formal mission description, and some of you have seen
this before. When I got there almost three years ago I found that this was a bit too cumbersome for me to
understand. I'm a simple person. So I told the commanders what would make sense to me. It was just asking
them to do three things with respect to their Airmen. Develop and nurture their Airmen, be prepared to deploy,
and be prepared to fight.
We are in a kinetic war. We will probably be in one for the foreseeable future. I also believe that as we
got to Air Combat Command and started looking around we needed to focus, and this helped us do that.
We were all over the map. It was kind of a funny thing. I've told some of you this before, but as I looked
around to find out what was going in November of '01, it was interesting to me that the priority of the day was
in direct proportion to the last phone call. In other words, if General Jumper called and he called at 7:00
o'clock we knew what our priority was until he called again. Then the priorities were likely to change. It
was hard to keep our eye on the ball.
That was November. In January, we didn't have money for an off-site conference, so we had an on-site, and
we went over to what is now called the General Bill Creech Conference Center. I sat all the directors down and
we said, “If we can only find a few things that we should do well, that we're compelled to do well, what would
those things be?”
So we started with an informal meeting. We reviewed our strategic plan. I asked all of them to identify
their top challenges and then all I did was let them talk after providing a little bit of what we might call
We want the guidance in the field to be clear. We want to focus ourselves on what's attainable, something
in the near term. I felt that I would probably be the commander for about three years, and that turns out to
be the case. So I kind of had a three-year plan, but I asked them to have somewhere between a one- and a
five-year plan. We needed to develop metrics and tracking devices because we all know that if you don't measure
it, you can't fix it.
If you take something and measure it, that's a good start. If you take metrics and measure them and compare
units and compare things, then improvement occurs, and as you reward the best behavior, improvement occurs
dramatically. We know that to be a fact.
We also know that if you measure something it need to be both objective and it has to be obtainable. For
those of you who have not really worked with metrics before, if you're going to go to the gym and say, “I'm
going to be stronger tomorrow,” that's not a very objective measurement. But if you know what you're doing
today and you know what you want to do tomorrow then you have a roadmap or you can prepare a roadmap on how to
We wanted to use frequent reporting. But as opposed to the way we measured this in the past, we didn't want
the units reporting up to us. I didn't want units in competition with each other at this point because our
competition was terrorists. Our competition was Saddam Hussein. We didn't particularly need to compete with
each other, back the way that General Bob Russ and General Bill Creech and others used to do it in TAC and then
Mike Lowe in ACC, where they would take one pharmacy and compare it with another pharmacy and that competition
would drive rates in the right direction.
What I wanted our Airmen to know is what we're doing at the headquarters and then get feedback from us as to
whether they're making a difference in their lives, their peers' lives, their superiors' lives, their
subordinates' lives, and whether in a roll-up basis things were getting better in their units in Air Combat
Command, and therefore if they're better in ACC they'll be better in the Air Force. So we have to put it in
everybody's language and in terms they can understand.
So we came up with six things, and here they are. As everything started becoming clearer to us I think our
command started becoming more in focus with itself.
We started with people and then went into information operations (IO). I'll just roll these up and let you
look at them.
People, I thought, was the most important thing. Again, the guidance to the directors was, “If we can only do
a few things right, what would these things be?” And we believe that it all starts with people.
We have a saying in ACC, "Mission First, People Always." It's the people that fuel the Air Force. It's the
Airmen that fuel the Predators and the F/A-22s. We all understand if the Airmen go away you can take these
weapon systems and cut them up and make razor blades. As General Jumper said, it used to be razor blades, now
it's Norelco. Everything costs a lot more. But at any rate, it's all just metal and it's all just stuff until
it's in the hands of people.
We took a look at several things about people. We took a look at retention. General Donald Cook, AETC
Commander, just gave a great talk and he talked about his recruiting. I was the Vice Commander of ACC when we
went to war on recruiting, and then I had the privilege to go down and lead the Air Education and Training
Command for a short time. It dawned on me, though, that the real enemy was not the fact that we didn't recruit
well for one year. Our enemy was that we didn't retain well for years. And it's not okay to replace an Airman
with ten years experience with an Airman with ten weeks experience. It takes ten years to replace that Airman.
See, we're all homegrown. We don't go out to another industry and say, “I'm short a few captains, let me hire
some captains.” Or, “I'm short a few tech sergeants, let me hire you in, we'll make you a tech sergeant.” No.
Everyone starts as a second lieutenant or everyone starts as an Airman basic. We have a training investment.
Millions of dollars and thousands and thousands of hours, and why in the world as senior leaders in the Air Force
would we sit back and let our people go without a fight? And by a fight I mean we need to claw and scratch to
make them understand that they're needed, that they're important, that they're meaningful, and that they all have
Now every population tends to re-stratify and we don't have a retention problem today, but if we don't work
today's Airmen like we have a retention problem I can tell you, as General Cook said, when the economy starts to
improve and people get tired of their fourth tour at Bagram, they're going to leave us if we don't give them a
reason to stay, now. So if you want to help recruiting or retention in the future, each and every one of us
needs to worry about retention today and that's developing, nurturing and training our Airmen. [Applause]
We also talk about diversity. What I've learned to do that makes more sense to me is when I go out to a base
I get as many Airmen as the biggest hangar will hold and we have a commander's conference. Sometimes there's up
to 3,000 or 4,000 people. It's really interesting. I get them all to raise their hand and say, “if you're a
guy, leave your hand up.” The second is, “if you're a white guy, leave your hand up.” The third is, “if you're
a white guy over 55 years old, educated at Texas A&M, leave your hand up.” In five questions, I'm the only one
like me in the room.
I point out to them that you're the only one like you. You come from different backgrounds, you have
different parents, you have different levels of education, you have different levels of approach and appreciation
for things. You bring your own set of unique conditions and circumstances and there is no way that we with our
diverse workforce should fear a thing because we are together and we are together as Airmen from different
backgrounds and there's no way we can ever fall into the trap of groupthink.
That's why as we come together the things that we do together and collectively as Airmen should be exported
out to the communities. There is more goodness inside than there is outside. With diversity comes the fear of
this thing called “equal opportunity.” Do I believe in equal opportunity? You bet I do. What I don't believe
in is equal outcome. Every Airman should have an equal opportunity to succeed, but at the end of the day cork
floats, so if you're a cork you're floating; if you're not, you're sinking. But everybody should have an equal
Diversity is not something to be feared. It's something to be appreciated if it's harnessed and managed
correctly and in positive ways.
We believe as we develop leaders, we believe in the John C. Maxwell school of thought. We don't want to just
develop followers, we want to develop leaders. Leaders who develop followers need to be needed. They hoard
their power. They spend a little time with each other and they add to their ilk by addition. But the way that
Bill Creech used to teach us is that the first duty of a leader is to grow more leaders. Then you don't add to
your ilk by addition, you do it by multiplication, because those people who you create to be leaders go out and
Leaders who develop leaders don't need to be needed. They want to be succeeded. They don't hoard their power,
they give their power away. They don't spend a little time with others, they invest their times with others.
That's the big difference. That's what we've tried to do in the people area.
We've tried to tell our people that you don't just need to be physically strong, you need to be spiritually
strong and mentally strong.
What did the Chief talk about yesterday for those of you who heard him? What were his two top concerns? Were
they we didn't have enough F-22s? We didn't have enough Predators? No. He talked about sexual assault and
I have a fundamental belief that the people who take their own lives and give up that easily do so because
they have no hope and because they have no fundamental spiritual basis and they have no purpose for living.
That's up to us and we don't need to shirk that responsibility.
I tell our Airmen in ACC, if you have the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you have the spirit of a clam,
you're of no use to me. Likewise, if you're a spiritual giant and can't pick up a toolbox, you're of little use
to your fellow Airmen. So it takes a balance. And Chief, I think we're going to talk about this at Corona and
we're going to get to understand that there are ways that we can pump up the spiritual and mental aspects of
airmanship as well as the physical and achieve more of a balance, and I think we can save Airmen as a result.
So with that as why I think this is important, let me tell you that for all of these focus areas I issued a
general officer on our staff the responsibility to be a mission commander, starting with T.C. Jones.
I thought people were so important that I decided to be the flight lead on that. Steve Hogue does AEFs and
John Malute, our Director of Communication, does IO, etc. And with every flight lead we had a flight plan. We
recruited people to help us be sub-flight leads and wingmen on this wing, so we tried to push down what we were
doing all the way down to the Airmen in ACC.
We developed flight plans and we needed to look at where we were going, how to get the word out. We needed
an IO plan in order to get every Airman in the command to understand what we were doing and we also needed a way
to let them go to their computers, because everybody's got one, and click on what they were interested in and
see if what they were doing in a roll-up basis was helping the command and whether we at the command who believe
that the real worthiness of what's going on is in the field, whether we were doing our part.
So if, for example, someone was interested in infrastructure, they could look at quality of life aspects to
infrastructure, and it may take them to the housing metric.
I'm going to show you now a lot of metrics and I'm going to show you what we've been doing for the last three
years, then I'll reserve some time to take your questions.
For people, we decided we needed to clearly communicate the goodness of what we were about with our people, to
increase mentorship at every level, to actively publicize the quality of life and the difference in quality of
life and quality of living and ensure that safety was integral in everything we did.
You will see that we were coming down from 650,000 Airmen to somewhere over 300,000 Airmen. We've taken
somewhere between 35 and 40% cut in both our base structure infrastructure and our stuff, our things, the things
that go up, but our tasking has drastically improved.
With respect to pilots, I think there's real good news that our pilot retention is much higher than it used
to be. Four years ago, only 55% of our pilots professed a desire to stay with us, and now 80% of our pilots do.
We need to keep it that way. Remember as Airmen, our fundamental goodness to military value is that things go up
in the air and Airmen help them go up and help them come down safely.
Enlisted retention's up across the board. Why is that? I think that may of our retention issues are hidden
in the economy. I think that some retention issues are hidden in stop loss. I think that some retention issues
are hidden in patriotism. But I also think that retention is up overall because our Airmen feel more needed.
The mentoring is working, the leading and the coaching is working and they feel a fundamentally improved
intrinsic value in who they are, what they do, and what their potential is.
We looked at stressed career fields and we find that in our stressed career fields our retention is also up.
Again, we know that it's masked by certain variables external to our ability to control them. I challenge each
and every one of you to realize that and work on every Airman as a project because we must retain the ones that
need to be retained and must feel it's okay to let those go who need and probably would be of better service
Look at the degrees. Despite all that's going on in our OPTEMPO, our Airmen have professed a desire to be
educated. We are growing in degree production by leaps and bounds. These degrees in aggregate are master's
degrees and bachelor's degrees, but if we continue to do this, look at this educated force we're going to have.
Our Airmen are passing at a 99 percent success rate their CDCs. So we understand that there is an intrinsic
leadership challenge in giving these people time to be educated because the payback is immeasurable.
As we looked at AEFs we wanted to develop ten equally capable AEFs. We want to be able to quickly deploy,
get out of town, and we want to mature our AEF process. So let me show you how I think we've done in the last
The four stars here know, because we've talked about it so much at Corona, that we used to manage the AEF by
a few Chief of Staff site pictures, or command guidance, or the four stars would write their major command
commanders and say, “here's what we need to do with the AEF, but we didn't have a cohesive policy that fit into
the joint structure.”
Two years ago, we started doing this and with the help of General Keys, the XO, and General Tim Peppy who was
running the AEF business at the time, we now have a coherent AEF policy and we have something now to hang up on
the coat rack and look at all the time. It also enables us to have a guide light in order to be successful, and
it also helps us understand when things go wrong how the system might self-correct.
We can deploy quickly eight AEFs in a big surge mode and we can then draw this down over geographical
commands and over time. This is a success story and I'll tell you more when we look at deployable personnel.
Three years ago, when we were really starting to manage the AEF, we had very few people who were identified as
deployable. Look at how we've grown that with the help of every leader in every MAJCOM, a total Air Force effort.
AEF reporting is much, much better than it was because of the processes that we have, and commanders know what
their people are doing, what their potential is, what their availability is, and our reporting has gone up to a
level where I think we'll start to achieve almost 100 percent within a very short period of time.
The flexibility that the AEF gives us ... “flexibility” meaning if you look at how we surged up, we sent a lot
of combat skills over combat support, but as we started to sustain we needed more combat support, so the AEF
gives us proven agility.
As you start to build an AEF and give our Airmen predictability in their lives, you want to go up as fast as
possible so everybody knows as far out in advance, 7 to 11 weeks if at all possible, that they are likely to be
deployed. And you can see that over time we've been getting better in every successive AEF deployment and giving
our Airmen predictability. Again, it's not just the AEF Center that's doing that, it's every MAJCOM and every
unit being on board in the AEF.
The discrepancies are down. Again, it's due to your hard work and the work of your leadership at your units.
So the AEF I think has been a very good story with respect to how it's developed over the last three years.
When we get into information operations things get a lot squishier because with IO we didn't particularly know
what we were doing. Many times we resembled the dog that caught the bus. Now that we've got it, what do we do
with it? But with IO you'll see the metrics aren't quite as robust, but at least what I wanted us to do,
starting three years ago, was to take the ball on our own three yard line and maybe in three or five years get
down in the neighborhood of our own 40 or 45.
What we had to do was change our doctrine and change our policy. We've been proud to have led the effort to
not only change Air Force policy, but to rewrite Air Force doctrine and now joint doctrine is being rewritten to
take the shape of Air Force doctrine.
Look at the number of people that we have every year in formal training, the number of AFSCs that are now in
information operations. And this IO integration, look at what we used to have in order to take something in the
field, identify it, and put it in the database. We're now down from months to weeks and days. So this process
is working both in terms of growth and maturity, in terms of our capability to do things. There's good news out
Battle lab initiatives are up. We're getting great things out of our Battle labs. Not only are we getting
ideas, but we're also getting proven, fielded things. Things like a deal called Lock Jaw which can essentially
destroy a hard drive if it falls into the wrong hands. This is information operations from the protective
perspective. We're looking at different ways for the Guard and Reserve to participate in the information
operations area. We're able to turn things, requests from the field, back out in much shorter time than we ever
have before, again due to the maturation of our processes.
Command and control. What would we be without command and control? We all realize it's the science of
control that enables the art of command. But we needed to look at a lot of things about command and control,
specifically with respect to accelerating the kill chain. Let me show you a little bit about what we've been
The Falconer evolution. All we've been doing is monitoring our investment, so we take no credit for
developing the Falconers. But what we have been doing is looking to see where that last Falconer AOC is going
to go. We're not real sure yet, but we're real close. We think we know.
The qualification training of people who work in AOCs. To get them initially qualified has come drastically
up in the last few years, and with respect to our data links, both in terms of what they do and the protection
of our data links is much improved because we are now a service very, very dependent on data links—both with how
we link up to airplanes, how we link to command and control systems, how we link into satellites, and back into
We've said for a long time, it can’t be like when you go to WalMart or the BX and you walk up to the cashier
with a basket full of goods and the cashier looks at you and says, “I'm sorry, the system's down.” The system
can't ever be down any more. There are lives at stake when our system goes down. So these datalinks and the way
we protect them are very, very fundamentally important to the way we fight and the way the nation depends on the
Talking about the kill chain. Remember, we have air gaps between F2T2 and E&A. But you'll see that the kill
chain compression has drastically improved. What used to take us two hours a few years ago takes us under ten
minutes today on average. That is because of smart Airmen figuring out better ways to do business.
We're monitoring tactical air control equipment. We're monitoring the radios that we hand to our TACPs and
our combat controllers. Piece-by-piece. We're monitoring the Rovers that we give them. We're monitoring the
modernized laser range finders. You can see that we didn't do very good with respect to investment and re-supply
several years ago and I will be the first to tell you, along with General Mike Wooley and Paul Hester, that
modernizing this needs to be done more jointly and in a conjoined manner and we need to make sure that we give
our Airmen every bit of kit they need in order to get out and slug it out with our brothers and sisters in the
Army and the Marine Corps. This is a very fundamentally strong and sound commitment.
Then we get into distributed mission operations and command and control. Now we finally have our AWACS linked
in with our F-15s and our F-16s.
In just a very short period of time, we’re going to have our E-8s linked as well. And think of a world in
which everything is linked to simulators and we can fly and fight from home station in Red Flag scenarios that
would be virtually impossible to get airspace or money for in the future.
I think you can see where we're going with respect to Distributed Mission Operations (DMO). But when we put
the underpinnings of command and control in there and think of going to Red Flag sometime and out of CAOC Nellis,
having a full-blown air war as we're flying real sorties and virtual sorties. I think we have a tiger by the
tail and something that's truly going to be transformational in the way we train in the future.
Infrastructure. We've got to pay more attention to our infrastructure. We believe fundamentally that if our
Airmen are out on the flight line and it's raining, they can get wet. But if they come inside to dry off, it
can't rain inside too, and sometimes that happens. The recapitalization rate is something that we're paying
very close attention to.
Back in 1990, I was a wing commander. I had $6.50 a square foot to spend on Seymour Johnson. Now, Mike
Holmes has $1.80 per square foot to spend on Seymour Johnson and the base is 12 years old. So we have to take a
look at our infrastructure and our recapitalization rates and make sure that every dollar we spend is a dollar
spent in the right way because we're so vastly and critically underfunded in our engineering and in our
We take a look at lodging facilities, we take a look at family housing, we understand that we have a lot of
work to do because our Airmen are on the move. The way we measure lodging, if it's 40 years or older or less
than what we call Code 1, it's substandard and we've got to get our lodging up to speed. But we have good news
with housing because we've made a $1.3 billion investment in our housing and we're going to have better housing
than we’ve had in the history of the Air Force in just a few years and it's wonderful to go out to the field and
watch this happen. Virtually every time I go, I see new housing and happier and more content families out there.
Food services, fitness facilities. We're following the lead of both PACAF and Space Command in trying to make
our physical fitness facilities absolutely world class. We have a plan now and an investment strategy and I
think we can do that.
We realize that communications don't just go to the front door and stop, but we have to protect that fiber as
well as we protect our data links. So we've invested heavily in that. We're also, as the rest of the Air Force
is, investing heavily in modernizing and making our gates better, protecting against terrorists, and giving our
Airmen more security once they're inside.
If you see an engineer you need to go up and hug them because they deserve it. They've sure been doing a lot
of heavy lifting for us. This is not just ACC, but these are Air Force combat engineers and people who are
making things better for the Airmen who are deployed.
General Cook mentioned transformation earlier. I'll say it. We don't know what it means. Some people think
they do. But if you want to know, transformation is molecular change, so we have not really decided what to do
in terms of transformation, but at least we tried to put a definition on it that made sense to us and look at
ways that we could transform with respect to organizational changes, concepts of operation, or with equipment.
On the F/A-22, obviously the delivery schedule by Lockheed Martin is what gives us the airplanes, but as we
get back in '05 General Cook and I and our staffs have been working very closely with General Martin and with the
test community to make sure that we have the right number of airplanes in training and operational. With the
test community because the ACC commander in December of '05 has to decide whether or not the F/A-22 is initially
operationally capable, so how these airplanes are parsed out is very, very important. And Don, I appreciate
your cooperation as I always have with you and your folks to do some trading and some swapping out to make sure
that both the maintenance folks can be trained and that the future Airmen can be trained.
You can see that the CONOPs continue to flourish, as they should. We're now riding an ISR CONOPs which will
give us a better opportunity to define our UAV and all ISR requirements and that will be a part of the command
and control CONOPs that Space Command has taken the lead on. I think the future as we start to get out into the
out years are going to show us that the sky's the limit with respect to distributed mission training.
So we circle back then and take a look at communicating this focus to the field. We've found that our Airmen
have bought into these things. They appreciate what they're doing to make the Air Force a better place. From
Rick Rossburg, who was the Wing Commander of the Year in ACC last year, down to Don Cook's newest Airman—they've
all got to understand the lingo, they've got to understand the vision. If we don't understand where we are, we
don't understand where we're going, then we don't have a prayer to get there. That's what this is about. It's
about empowering and motivating Airmen to do more tomorrow than they did today, giving them a road map to do it,
giving them a framework within which to work, and then asking them to go out and do great things. It starts with
people and it ends with people.
Luke Tickner, an OSI agent, was the first Airman in Talil. Angel Agia was a young Airman in Northern Iraq
guarding a Marine helicopter landing base. Mitchell Yang was about to jump into Iraq out of a C-17. He had a
content look on his face because he's trained, he knows exactly what he's going to do. Then he went out and he
did it. Tali Parnham, Mary Melfy and Julie Airs—two of them are F-15E whizzos. One of them, Tali, is a lawyer
from Columbia, South Carolina, who also happened to be an F-16 pilot with the Swamp Foxes. Active duty, Guard,
Airman, Reserves, male, female, black, white, brown. It makes no difference. They're Airmen. They make the Air
Force go. We ought to love them each and every day because they are our future. Nothing could be more important
than the future because that's where we're going to spend the rest of our life.
So that's it. That's kind of what we've been doing the last few months and the last few years. I'm going to
take some questions, but I was asked to bring and show you a video that I showed down in Orlando and many of you
didn't get to see it. I hope it will pump you up, and if we don't have time for questions then I'll get off the
stage when General Jumper comes in. [Laughter]
This is about standing on the shoulders of the people who've come before us. You'll see people in there like
Russ Dougherty. God bless America for people like Russ Dougherty. You'll see people like Chappy James and his
son Dan James. You'll see people who run the Air Force now who have had the ability to stand on the shoulders of
giants. But at the end of the day, it's all about the people who make it work, and again, its our Airmen.
We created this and we call it, "We Remember." The music is from the ACC Heritage Flight written by a young
man from Memphis, Tennessee. I hope you'll like this. If you've seen it before, please afford us your
forbearance. If you haven't seen it, this is for you at the request of some of the folks in the Air Force
[Video shown] [Applause]
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