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Excellence: Redefining the culture of Vandenberg Airmen

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Culture of Excellence  This image is 20 inches by 10 inches, 300 dpi.

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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The 30th Space Wing now has a set of three vectors based on the Air Force's third Core Value - vectors that wing leadership wants people on Vandenberg to apply to their work and off-duty time.

You see the posters just about everywhere. Walk into any building on Vandenberg and there they are - orange and blue, and the word everyone is talking about written in golden letters above a silver 30th Space Wing shield.

The word is "excellence". The 30th Space Wing's three vectors establish a commitment to excellence to maintain, develop, innovate, improve and sustain Vandenberg's mission success.

"Nothing happens in isolation," said Col. Steve Tanous, 30th Space Wing commander. "All three vectors are tied together."

For the Culture of Excellence concept to work, the idea must be found in all corners of business at Vandenberg, with people pushing the message from top to bottom, side to side and bottom up.

The first vector is the foundation of the Culture of Excellence. It happens in an environment where teamwork, communication, creativity, a commitment to quality and outstanding service exist.

The 30th Space Communications Squadron has advanced the Culture of Excellence with its Customer Service Tips of the Week. The whole 30th Operations Group receives quotes via e-mail, like the idea that bad customer service has second and third order effects.

We can compare these effects to determining a target in battle - to maximize the impact of the "kill," a planner looks to see if there will be follow-on effects on other areas. If so, synergistic effects happen, said Lt. Col. Christina Anderson, 30th SCS commander.

"The same can be true for our impact on our customers. When we give good or bad customer service, it can have a secondary or tertiary effect. Poor service can result in additional work for either you or another action officer or the customer. Good customer service, on the other hand, enables both you and your customer to move on to the next issue or project, enabling progress," she said.

Another approach to a Culture of Excellence has been customer service training. The 30th Comptroller Squadron recently sent three finance Airmen to the training with excellent results, said Maj. Tracy Watkins, 30th CPTS commander.

"They thought the training was amazing," Major Watkins said. "We picked the best people, who were energized and excited by this training. Now they came back and want to spread the Culture of Excellence idea through the squadron."

Not only is customer service training an aspect of the Culture of Excellence; it ties into the wing's second vector, the Strategic Airmen concept, since the training shows the Airmen the big picture.

"Once we tell our Airmen what their play is in the 30th Space Wing, their play becomes more important to them and they keep in mind how to do it right every time," Major Watkins said. "If we don't give them that customer service, then they're worried about their pay instead of the mission."

Part of the Strategic Airmen concept includes thinking outside the box, doing their jobs better as a result of doing the job smarter and leveraging what is available. They understand what they do is more than just their 7 to 5 job; Strategic Airmen impact the Air Force mission on a global scale, like the time an Airman and a civilian in the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron saw a way to save the Air Force millions of dollars by switching to more efficient light-emitting diode street lamps.

Another idea that changed Department of Defense policy came from one Airman in the 30th Operations Support Squadron, when Airman 1st Class Erica Hudson asked a fundamental strategic question, said Lt. Col. Kevin Rhoades, 30th OSS commander. Her husband had deployed, and his Hazardous Duty pay raised the family's income bracket, making it more expensive to put children in the child development center.

"She asked, 'Why do we have to pay more money when my husband is receiving what was intended to be a benefit?' The DoD policy was changed soon after," Colonel Rhoades said.

All other units have their approaches. The 30th Medical Group closes the clinic once a month, setting aside a whole day to focus its team on mission readiness. Senior leadership in the 30th Launch Group conducts walk-arounds in the unit so the Airmen and civilians can get face-to-face time with the boss. And posters in the common areas of each organization show the big picture of how the unit contributes to the mission, to remind people that they live in a Culture of Excellence, said Master Sgt. Adam McComb, Vandenberg's Career Assistance Advisor.

"Let's say you're at work and you see that sign on the wall - now you're handling your task with a reminder that excellence is expected. It's a great tool to remind everyone that we live in a Culture of Excellence, and that we didn't get here by being mediocre," he said.

He keeps a stack of customer service feedback forms on his desk. The feedback is a strategic tool for the commander to determine the health of the 30th Mission Support Squadron, he said.

"The feedback empowers the customer to make sure what they need taken care of is done," Sergeant McComb said. "We want you to have a good experience when you come to MSS."

One 30th MSS Airman provided more than customer service-she was there to help when another Airman fell while running on a base road and injured herself. Because she selflessly came to the rescue, Staff Sgt. Maria Danzberger is a textbook example of the third vector, the Wingman.

The term Wingman means an Airman will never leave another Airman behind. The Air Force wants to cultivate and instill this same culture of commitment between all Airmen and Air Force civilians in all career fields and specialties via the Wingman program.

One morning in August 2006, Sergeant Danzberger drove west on Washington Avenue between the fitness center and communications squadron building when she saw a man in physical training gear flagging down people for help. One of the Airmen in his unit had fallen, tore open her leg, and needed a ride to receive aid. Sergeant Danzberger pulled over to the side of the road, picked up and took the Airman to where she could get help. It was an example of what it means to be a Wingman.

"I would want the same thing to happen for me," Sergeant Danzberger said.

She recently received recognition as the Wingman of the Quarter for the 30th Space Wing, and the 2007 AFSPC Safety Award Winner for the Wingman Safety Award category. For her part, Sergeant Danzberger was hand-picked as someone who looks out for her fellow Airmen.

She was one of three people recognized in the Commander's Calls in February. Donald Green received the Culture of Excellence Champion award as someone who bent over backwards in the quest for excellence, and Dee Perry received the Strategic Airman as someone who thinks big picture, understands the impacts of her actions to Vandenberg and the Air Force, and acts accordingly. Vandenberg can expect to see more Culture of Excellence awards in the future.

The awards, the posters, the training, the unit walk-arounds, all of these are in place to achieve the same effect - to bring the idea of a Culture of Excellence to the forefront of thought with everyone on Vandenberg.

But there are people who say they feel talked down upon, that a program directing people to be excellent when they feel they already are, is condescending. They seem to be missing the point.

"The point behind the Culture of Excellence is to commit ourselves to that core value by surrounding ourselves with the idea," Colonel Tanous said. "Everything we do deserves and demands a commitment to excellence-from accomplishing our mission and finding ways to do it better, to providing outstanding customer service and supporting our fellow wingmen. This is why we want the Culture of Excellence concept to be extensive and far-reaching, so people will have excellence in mind when making choices."

According to the Core Values, Excellence is the standard for everyone in the Air Force. Be it enlisted, officer, civil service civilian or contractor, all are Airmen. The Culture of excellence exists to remind all Airmen that excellence is what is expected of them. Of course, that idea wasn't born with the creation of the 30th Space Wing's three vectors. It just put a label on what Vandenberg does on a day to day basis.