Think of the NASCAR pit stop workers who rapidly repair race cars, but replace the cars with military planes.
Then think about where the tires, parts and equipment to repair those planes comes from, add it all together, and you’ll begin to understand what the Air Force Sustainment Center does.
Nearly 43,000 airmen make up the center under the command of Lt. Gen. Lee Levy II. Levy, 55, oversees the airmen, a $16 billion annual budget and $26 billion in assets.
Despite the fact that the Air Force still uses and repairs planes older than Levy himself, technology has advanced with the times. These days, the sustainment center employs 4,000 software engineers. Instead of thinking of airplanes as fifth-generation fighter jets, Levy thinks of them as “fifth-generation software packages.”
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Levy, based at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, attended a Change of Command ceremony Friday at Scott Air Force Base. One of the sustainment center’s units, the 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing, is located at Scott AFB. Two other bases, in addition to Scott and Tinker, have units that are part of the center — Hill Air Force Base in Utah and Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
Here are some excerpts from an interview with the general.
Q: Can you explain in layman’s terms what the Air Force Sustainment Center does?
A: “We are the Air Force’s engine of readiness. We are a global logistics and sustainment organization for the Air Force and for parts of the Army, Navy, Marines and other parts of the government and our allies.
Whether it’s global logistics readiness, parts for airplanes, parts for weapons systems, we do software reprogramming for software systems, we do nuclear command and control systems, so pretty much everything that makes the weapons systems work. That’s us. We repair and overhaul the Air Force’s airplanes.”
Q. Describe the work done at the four bases.
A. “If you were to come to my headquarters in Tinker right now what you’d see is B-52s being stripped apart and rebuilt. If you went to one of my bases in Georgia, you’d see the same thing. If you went to my base in Utah, you’d see that happening with A-10 attack airplanes as well as F-35 fighter jets. So we take care of airplanes and weapons systems all across the board.”
Q. How has technology and your job changed over the years?
A. “I really have a foot in two different technology camps — some is the really old stuff that we sustain because that’s what the nation expects, and we have a leg in the other really new high tech camp like the F-22 and the F-35.
What I really want is to talk about the people. The Air Force is well in its evolution from being an Industrial Age Air Force to what you and I might think of as an information age Air Force.
Historically, the people that have been in our line of work haven’t needed the types of high-tech skill sets that we need today. In fact, I tell folks I need fifth-generation airmen for a fifth-generation Air Force... The average man or woman I bring in off the street has a much higher level of education and needs a much higher level of education to sustain the modern weapons systems.”
Q. Outside of repair, what does the Air Force Sustainment Center do?
A. “One minute I’m thinking about or one of my organizations is thinking about talking to a big aerospace company, Boeing, Lockheed, talking to the CEO or the president of one of those companies because I need to award them a multi-million dollar contract about some new parts we need to buy.
At the same time, I’m getting a phone call from Afghanistan, ‘Hey, I need that part for my airplane by tomorrow because they need to fly a mission.’
So, when I say we’re a global logistics and sunstainment provider, all the way from the factory... we manage it, we orchestrate it, we repair it, we store it, we stock it, we position it, all the way to putting it into the hands of the guy or gal downrange.
Frankly, if you’re 20 years old and you’re in Iraq or Afghanistan fighting, you don’t care about me. You don’t care about my 43,000 airmen in my command. You probably don’t even know who we are. That’s fine. What you care about is you’ve got your stuff. You want your stuff. You want it to work. You want to do what the nation has asked you to do and you want to come home to your family.
When they do that without ever having to worry about the Air Force Sustainment Center, without ever knowing who we are, they can do that with 100 percent knowledge in their hearts that whenever they hear jet noise, they know it’s U.S. Air Force airplanes and not somebody else’s — when we get to that point, that’s the point I’m constantly driving us toward.”