ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --
Coronavirus safeguards, efforts to bolster diversity across the Air Force Materiel Command and telework were among the topics broached by AFMC Commander Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. during a Jan. 27 virtual town hall broadcast from Arnold Air Force Base.
The hour-long town hall, streamed via Microsoft Teams, was part of a visit made to Arnold last month. During his stop, Bunch also toured base facilities, met with leadership and presented coins to several team members.
Bunch opened the broadcast with a message for team members across the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, headquartered at Arnold AFB.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for what you do. You all are making a big difference.”
Bunch focused much of his time discussing the ongoing COVID-19 and vaccination compliance. AFMC installations, including Arnold AFB, are presently operating under elevated Health Protection Condition levels.
Individuals performing work at Arnold and other Air Force installations are required to attest to their vaccination status. Unvaccinated employees are required to test weekly for COVID-19 and maintain physical distancing from others. Service members, contractors, federal employees and visitors must, regardless of vaccination status, wear a face covering indoors.
“The mandates are there. We are enacting them in accordance with the executive order that came down from the president and the Safer [Federal] Workforce initiatives. We are doing the best we can to work our way through those,” said Bunch.
While he said vaccination mandates are creating a degree of stress among the workforce, AFMC will continue to follow the guidance handed down by Headquarters Air Force and the Department of Defense.
“Right now, we’re following those guidelines and, right now, I don’t intend to change the way that we’re implementing those,” Bunch said. “Unless I get different direction down, we’re going to continue to follow those guidelines. That will require unvaccinated individuals to test on a weekly basis. We will follow those distancing rulesets. All of those things we are going to continue to follow those for the foreseeable future.”
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred an increase in telework across the Air Force. AFMC leads the Air Force in telework opportunities for its personnel and its continuing assessment of the work arrangement. Bunch said that he remains committed to telework, hoping to see it grow where appropriate and utilized when applicable.
“The message I want everybody to take is we are not going to go back to what we were doing before,” Bunch said. “We should have adopted it in some cases earlier. There are benefits here that we need to reap.”
Bunch added he feels capitalizing on telework and offering such opportunities could aid in personnel retention, particularly among the more digitally-savvy junior workforce. He said staff throughout the AFMC has not only demonstrated they can remain productive in a telework-heavy job environment, they have shown they can thrive.
“I have had individuals tell me that their bosses have said, ‘If you’re not here, you’re not working.’ I disagree with that,” Bunch said. “We awarded more contracts the first year of COVID than we had awarded the year previously. We did not miss contracts. We met all of our milestones. We got the mission done.”
Bunch said increasing diversity, equity inclusion and accessibility with the AFMC remains his top priority. The key to this, he said, is creating an environment that eliminates any barriers which prevent personnel from achieving their full potential and those that inhibit retention of diverse staff.
“We’re making great strides,” Bunch said. “We’re leading the rest of the Air Force in this area, but I can’t let my foot off the pedal. None of us can. We’ve got to continue to focus on this. We’ve got to stress it, and we’ve got to continue to take steps to create the environment where every Airman has the opportunity to perform to their full potential.”
The AFMC commander also touched on the focus shift the U.S. military is expected to make following the approvals of the latest National Defense Strategy and National Military Strategy, both of which are currently being reviewed. Bunch said the nation’s defense focus is likely to shift from extremist organizations and counterterrorism to technologically-advanced near-peer adversaries.
The Air Force, Bunch said, is focused on advancing technology to ensure the U.S. maintains a technological advantage over potential adversaries. He added the test enterprise must be part of the Air Force effort to further capabilities in areas such as hypersonic, space and advanced engine technology.
According to Bunch, AEDC will play a key role.
“There’s a lot of work that will go on in the test enterprise and a lot of work that will go on within AEDC that’s going to contribute to us being able to make those things reality and not just things we talk about as we try to bring that technology to the field in a more timely manner,” Bunch said.
One thing that could help deliver technology more quickly is the AFMC Digital Campaign, he said. This coordinated effort aims to move the activities of the enterprise to modern digital capabilities and processes with the goal to deliver capabilities at increased speed and efficiency by designing, sustaining and modernizing them in an integrated digital environment.
He noted through the Digital Campaign, Arnold was able to partner with a program office, collect additional data and complete a test program six months earlier than originally planned.
“That’s the kind of power that digital can bring to us, and we want to grow that and utilize that more as we get things done so we don’t have to test as many things in the air because testing in the air has a lot more unpredictably there, a lot of factors that you can’t control and it’s a whole lot more costly,” he said. “So we’re going to continue to push the digital campaign.”
Bunch touched on some other items during the town hall, including efforts to enhance information technology across the AFMC and his desire to see innovations implemented at the base-level scaled across the Air Force.
He concluded by saying it has been an “absolute joy” to work for the 89,000-plus Airman of the AFMC. He encouraged viewers to “keep telling the story” of what they do and showing the value of what they do.
“Let me close with ‘thank you’ for what you do,” Bunch said. “It is an honor to get to work for you. Please keep doing all those great things. Remember, and I still firmly believe this – we’re the most important major command in the Air Force. Not because that’s arrogance. That’s because everything that we do we do for everybody else.”