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This is not Burger King - you might not get it "your way"

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. John Dougherty
  • 451 AEW
"Hold the pickles; hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way". This is the famous 1970's sales jingle from the fast food chain Burger King. Only a handful of us old timers might recall those musical commercials, but the message was clear - Burger King wanted you happy because happy meant more business. However, here's a news flash for you - this is not Burger King. You are in Afghanistan, we are in the middle of a combat zone, and odds are, you will not get "it" your way. It seems to me that the expectation from our Airmen serving in this country SHOULD BE that we won't "get it our way." I know, some of you will say, that it's not fair or worse yet, feel and state that you are "entitled" to certain things--but plain and simply you are not entitled to anything.

During my first 100 days in country, I heard customers at several units (civil engineers, supply, force support) express unhappiness that something, put anything in that something (paper, food, computers etc.) is not what they want. It seems personnel expect things at Kandahar to mimic the things found at home station. However, it's just not realistic to hold these expectations. It leads one to be let down with the special order concept.

For example, our supply personnel do a tremendous job keeping us stocked with MICAPS, paper and pens, but I was dumbfounded the day I was in getting copier paper and I heard a customer say, "Why don't you carry those slick, cool looking gel pens?"  Quickly, the supply clerk tried to appease the customer and looked up the gel pen in the supply catalog. After expending the effort to fill the "special order", the customer was exasperated when told that it might take six to eight weeks to get the order. At this point, I felt compelled to tell the junior noncommissioned officer that we were in Afghanistan and that supplies were shipped in because Wal-Mart was not on every corner. The customer appeared embarrassed for a minute but was still unhappy that he couldn't have it his way.

Our living quarters are another area where people maintain an unrealistic expectation of the delivered product. Our Airmen are very fortunate to have quality accommodations provided each day. My friends assigned at some forward operating bases do not use bunk beds and mattresses, rather they are given cots and sleeping bags. This reminds me of a staff sergeant who is assigned to my home unit and is stationed at a combat outpost. He uses baby wipes to bathe each day. He is thankful for the weekly shower he gets with tepid water. This up and coming leader gets it - he doesn't put in a special order for warm water every day because he knows it is unrealistic. However, on a daily basis, I get concerns about the quality or "substandard" living conditions at KAF. Each of us has fairly decent quarters with hot water, heat and fairly comfortable, war-standard mattresses to rest on. Does it really matter how small the bath and shower areas are? Does someone really measure to determine if they are getting exactly 80 square feet of living space? If this sounds like you - it probably is you. I know it sounds crazy when written down on paper like this, but I see concerns every day that makes me say, "Wow!" Don't be disappointed with your special order - don't expect five-star accommodations but rather stop for a minute and thank the Wing for ensuring you have livable conditions in a place that will never live up to the special order you receive at home.

One area that does seem to hit the "special order" mark, and a point I hope that will bring this message together for us, is our recreation facilities. On a regular basis, I get comment cards that exclaim "what a great facility" or "terrific opportunity to rest and relax" or better yet - "nice place to Skype" with family. I ask myself, how do we please the customer at this mission element but seem to miss the mark with the other areas mentioned?  I believe it's because we don't have a "recreation" special order image in our head. Yes, some of the very same capabilities exist at your home station (e.g., community centers, rec facilities, etc). but we don't use them.  They are services provided at home that are so plentiful down town or in the comfort of your own homes that you don't use them daily. Getting it right in this department is easy - because no matter what you get, it is a special order. KAF's recreation facilities provide a place to play, work out, eat good food, celebrate birthdays, and enjoy e-family connections. The quality is not always the best but it goes unnoticed because the "special order" expectation does not exist.

Kandahar Airfield is situated in an austere and desolate land that does not provide the creature comforts of which we are accustomed. Rather, it is a place made from a melting pot of cultures, coalition partners, and special order expectations. Look around and see what is going on and absorb the environment (not the smell in the air, but more the culture) you live in every day here. It will always be dusty, the air is not clean and quality and the infrastructure may not be the standard found at high-end resorts. Each of us needs to take stock of what we really need to survive in this combat zone and before you ask for change, question whether it's a "special order" or a necessity. Having special orders, much like the Burger King flame broiled hamburger without the pickles, onions or lettuce, is nice - but is it necessary?

I am amazed at what we accomplish every day in our Wing. I see it from all sides of the mission. We launch and repair aircraft at a rate that significantly exceeds the long forgotten concept of air pioneer, Colonel Billy Mitchell. We bed down thousands of rotating forces in an efficient manner, and every Airman provides a critical piece of the mission puzzle that drives our success. We need you to be strong - day in and day out - but when your expectation for a "special order" doesn't happen, it potentially degrades a positive attitude that ultimately hampers and impacts our mission success. It is not Burger King - it will probably not be "your way" but everything delivered by our Wing is the "Air Force way" and we do it better than any country in the world.

Each Airman assigned to KAF is making history--our families will read about our accomplishments in the history books. We should define realistic expectations versus desires that are individually comfortable. Thank you for working hard and achieving the AEW's special order -- delivering a Powerful, Persistent, Presence to our customer day in and day out!