Fighter Generation Squadron–A Simple Solution to C2, Mission Generation, and Increased Focus on Airmen
By Maj Evin Page Greensfelder
In February 2020, the 20th Fighter Wing (20 FW) and 20th Maintenance Group (20 MXG) at Shaw AFB made a historic move by separating the previous 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (20 AMXS) into three independent Fighter Generation Squadrons (FGS). The former 20 AMXS was home to almost one thousand maintainers commanded by Lt Col Anthony Bryant leading and managing all aspects of training and equipping a squadron while ensuring three Aircraft Maintenance Units (AMUs) were fully supporting three independent Fighter Squadrons (FS).
“There was no way I could know everything in terms of people and production.” -Col Sebren
Each subordinate AMU was elevated to a squadron with a Major assuming command of each – 55 FGS led by Maj Stephanie July, 77 FGS led by Maj Claire Vazquez, and 79 FGS led by Maj Evin Greensfelder. The reorganization’s main objective was to create a more lethal and combat-ready fleet by flattening the organizational structure to create squadrons of a more manageable size (approximately 300 personnel each). Col Hall Sebren, 20 MXG Commander, envisioned separate FGSs while deployed to Balad Air Base as an AMXS Commander in 2010. His squadron was roughly 800 personnel between six AMUs, “There was no way I could know everything in terms of people and production.” Col Sebren foresaw that this concept could essentially be translated to any MDS when implemented. For the fighter community, the idea is the entire unit deploys and moves forward, remains until the work is complete, and then returns home. This change ensures the commander at home is the same commander while deployed.
Col Sebren broached the idea of separating 20 AMXS to Col Derek O’Malley, 20 FW Commander, in early December 2019, and the idea quickly became a reality after it was approved by General James M. Holmes, Commander of Air Combat Command in early January 2020. The separation concept was clear-cut, easy to articulate to masses, and would inevitably give squadron commanders the one thing they all wanted and want more of – time. Time to focus on people AND production.
Lt Col Anthony Bryant, former 20 AMXS Commander, endorsed the split from the very beginning stages of planning, “Moving to a Fighter Generation Squadron was about putting the mission and Airmen first. Having 300 members versus 1,000 allows the commander to better understand the challenges associated with our #1 resource…Airmen! This will allow them to make informed decisions in preparing them to execute the mission.”
The FGS organizational structure gives commanders more oversight of production efforts and drives overall squadron deployment readiness. “I want this to pick-up and go to someplace we have never been and be able to operate without an MXG structure, so the [FGS] commander becomes that ‘mini MXG’ in [a] deployed environment,” stated Col Sebren, “If [commanders are] only thinking of it in terms of how you [operate] at home you are not thinking about it correctly,” he added. FGS commanders will deploy with their squadrons paired with their respective FS. In this way, pilots can focus on their mission, and maintainers can focus on their mission. If the Air Force adopts this concept, we could also eliminate some standing AMXS/MXS tours, which will also help reduce the overall deployment burden the maintenance community balances.
“FSs deploy as a complete package, and we’re mirroring their efforts” -Maj Claire Vazquez
Maj Claire Vazquez, 77 FGS Commander, stated, “As our FGS is next-in-line to deploy, going as a squadron vs. an AMU or flight will pay dividends. FSs deploy as a complete package, and we’re mirroring their efforts – having the commander accompany the unit ensures you have a commander and staff at the location where their unit’s primary mission is occurring, and furthermore that commander already knows their people, processes, and [limitations]. There’s no gap in communication and action when it comes to either maintenance or personnel issues, when previously the deployed and home station commanders would be coordinating across multiple geographic areas and time zones.”
Each new FGS commander has the appropriate experience and authority to manage his/her own manning, fight for critical equipment resources, strengthen the relationship between operations and maintenance, better care for Flightline Airmen, and oversee daily production efforts. The reorganization did not induce additional manpower or resources and converted the traditional Officer-in-Charge (OIC) position to mimic that of the FS counterparts. AMU OICs were promoted to Directors of Operations (DOs) and only focus on sortie generation. The internal organization remained unchanged across all three squadrons after the separation.
“We are used to running 250-person AMUs as ‘just’ a Captain job, when most other types of functions in the Air Force that’s actually a squadron,” stated 20 MXG Deputy Commander, Lt Col Stacey Ferguson. With maintenance organizations typically being the largest squadrons in a flying wing, a smaller squadron allows the commander valuable “face time” and fostering relationships with Airmen of all ranks that perhaps was not possible for a commander leading a squadron with upwards of one thousand personnel.
Col Sebren’s concept to reorganize the traditional fighter AMXS was influenced primarily by former Air Force Chief of Staff, General John Jumper’s philosophy that the Air Force needs to, “Go back to what we are good at – which is flying and fixing” and liberating maintenance commanders from the administrative burden that inherently stems from simply being too large.
FGS commanders physically reside in the squadron building, whereas the previous squadron commander’s office was located in a central hangar between all three AMUs, limiting his/her overall access. FGS commanders not only have the bandwidth to be involved in production decision making but have more time to interact with Airmen on the flightline and gain a better understanding of daily challenges, limitations, and resource holes maintainers contend with to accomplish the mission.
“There is an inherent connection that occurs when leadership is visible and accessible” -Maj Stephanie July
55 FGS Commander, Maj Stephanie July stated, “Residing in the same building as the Airmen has given more light to the issues they face in regards to manning, resources and personnel issues. There is an inherent connection that occurs when leadership is visible and accessible. As the previous 20 AMXS Director of Operations, I knew there were areas for improvement, but my time was split between the production efforts for three AMUs. Sitting in the seat as an FGS commander, I am seeing how much more attention and focus the squadron leadership team has to address these concerns and resolve issues.”
The 20 MXG’s vision is straightforward: keep it simple. Simplify the organizational structure to give a voice to every Airman and the means to be heard so that maintainers can focus on what they are good at – producing sorties. Decreasing the overall size of a squadron will intrinsically allow commanders to not only take care of people better but identify their problem areas and fight for appropriate resources, in turn ensuring our overall combat readiness is our number one priority always.