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UK weekly edition, Wednesday, May 30, 2007

With only days left commanding the 48th Fighter Wing, Brig. Gen. Robert P. Steel sat down to speak about his two years leading the largest U.S. Air Force installation in the United Kingdom, where 4,500 airmen were under his command.

Steel is slated to depart England later this month to command the National War College at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.

Can you briefly talk about your biggest challenge during your command here at Lakenheath? My first operational challenge was to get our F-15 Es modified with the first major upgrade ever in that weapons system. In order to get them modified in time for their upcoming AEF [air expeditionary force] deployment, this wing was put to the test, basically moving forward a major modification up by six months. This is not easy to do.

That sounds pretty complicated. How much staff does that require? It put all of my groups — my mission support group, my maintenance group and my ops group — in a very difficult position as aircraft are taken away from them and put in a modification line.

And what does this mean for the F-15? We were able to bring to the theater a weapons system that was capable of delivering a small diameter bomb, which can meet the commander’s desire for a desired effect on the ground.

Is this cycle complete now? We’ve complete one squadron’s worth and about halfway done with the others.

During your tenure here at Lakenheath, smart ops and “lean” have become synonymous with the modern Air Force. Can you provide some examples of how this has been implemented here? Some places you go, you do need to lean out and look for ways to be more efficient. But for us, we have to be careful about jumping in and making radical movements because we think it will have an effect. One example that was successful was our gate process. We always had a problem with the volume of traffic coming in each morning, but we looked for a better way of flowing traffic. We looked at the process and were able to better manage the flow of traffic on base in the morning, and off base each afternoon.

Has the 85th Group from Iceland been a good addition to the wing? They were always part of the wing, now they are just a lot closer. But it’s good for me, because I can go see them whenever I need to. I think it’s worked out well for them as well because they are able to get better training here than in Iceland.

What message do you want to leave with your troops? One thing I speak passionately about this at every newcomer’s briefing is driving; it’s almost like I’m a parent. The way these roads tend to bend and curve, and how the bushes and buildings obstruct your view, and how, in the winter, you have to drive in the blackest of night. Driving over here is the most challenging environment I’ve ever experienced. A moment of inattention may cost you your car, and it may cost you your life.

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