We are not so different from each other

  • Published
  • By Michael Hackett
  • 508th Aerospace Sustainment Wing
Military, government civilian, contractor; these are the three parts of the team that builds, sustains, and fights the world's premiere air and space force. A lot of people like to focus on what appears to make these groups different, but what's important is how those differences and similarities help the team in its common goal - supporting and defending the constitution of the United States through judicious application of aerospace power. 

Twenty six years ago, I took an oath and entered the Air Force as a second lieutenant. Most of the bad things I heard about officers in the Air Force revolved around them being ambitious and changing things for the sake of change. 

The key distinction of the military part of the team is that they almost exclusively fight our force. Although I remember fondly the camaraderie of generating jets for deployment, or leading a team in aircraft battle damage repair exercises, I was not called to battle. I have great respect for our deployed Airmen and their families for the sacrifices they make every day, and I continue to pray for their safety. I'm proud of the 24 years I spent as an engineer and aircraft maintenance officer in the Air Force and equally proud of the quality individuals I served with, and those who still serve. 

I then became a contractor for the government. During this time, I felt that my job was to find win-win solutions for the government and the company, since our success was made in facilitating the success of Air Force projects. Most of the people I worked with shared that "patriotic" mindset, and about half were prior military. I remember one of our financial analysts brought in a bunch of American flags one day because her husband told her that Private First Class Daniel Dolan's funeral procession was going to be passing our building. She wanted to make sure our company paid its respects to this fallen hero and we were all honored to do so. It was a small thing, but it reinforced my opinion that contractors understand the sacrifices of our countrymen and would do our part to help them do their jobs as safely as possible. 

We put a lot into developing requirements and detailing how we want systems to be designed and built. Contractors put a lot of work into planning the development and manufacturing process for these items: ordering materials with different lead times, staffing the program with engineers, designers, developers, managers, financial analysts, contracting officers etc and then, change happens. 

Many of the civilian engineers I've worked with in the labs, product centers and here at Hill have been experts in their fields, driving the development and integration of cutting edge technologies into new weapons systems. I've profited from the mentorship of civilian leaders as they led the formation of integrated product teams for the F-22 support systems. Here at Hill, I learned a lot from Alan Dalpias and Derryl Israel as they led the strategic planning and stand up of the Engineering Directorate here at Hill. Far from resisting change, they promoted it, creating new ways to better support weapon system acquisition and sustainment. 

The engineers and program managers in the F-16 program office have constantly demonstrated an innovative spirit and a willingness to do anything needed to get the job done. In my work here at the center I've seen that same pride and can do spirit in our commodities group and across the maintenance organization. 

A recent example of the great teamwork between the military, government civilians, and contractors was shown in the F-16 program office's response to an urgent need request for secure radios on the F-16. We supported development of this new capability for aircraft here at Hill and for Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve jets at other bases. 

Developed at Wright-Patterson and Hill AFB the team was led by a military program manager, a contractor program manager and two civilian engineers. The team created an innovative plan to manage the risk associated with developing this capability on a compressed schedule. The Wright-Patterson and Hill teams did great job sharing information and resources for their designs. 

We are not so different, you and I--and I would know because, I have been all three -- a military member, a contractor and government civilian. In the three different jobs I've had, one common experience with the people I've worked with is that they are all quality people eager to serve their country.