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Operations commander completes corporate fellows program

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- Earlier this summer the 157th Operations Group commander completed a 12-month Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows Program, which assists in the Defense Department's strategy to achieve the transformation of our military forces and capabilities.

"I learned that the challenges we have at the Air National Guard or Air Force level are very similar to the challenges in the private sector," said Col. Shawn Burrus, 157th Operations Group commander, and first member of the New Hampshire Air National Guard to attend this Senior Development Education program. "We are a reflection of the private sector and the private sector is a reflection of what's happening here."

The program is a Defense Department wide fellowship program that draws from the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserves and four active duty service components.

The program was initiated by former Defense Secretary William Perry in the early 1990s, Perry felt as though there was not enough intermixing between the services and corporate entities to find best practices and bring them back to the department.

Burrus was assigned to General Dynamics C4 Systems Division during his one year sabbatical.

"I spent a year observing the senior levels within General Dynamics function," said Burrus. "In my instance, I was more of a shadow to watch the way they make decisions and to learn more about the programs they administer."

Eligible colonels in the Air National Guard selected their SDE program in the order by which they would like to participate.

"I had selected the Harvard program, Naval War College and this fellowship program - eligible colonels can prioritize their choice of programs," Burrus added.

More than 70 applicants from the Air National Guard applied for the various SDE programs. More than 30 were selected. Burrus was among 14 colonels participating in the corporate fellows program.

"I worked out of the General Dynamics Taunton facility for the year and traveled around the country to each of the companies that participated," said Burrus. "I spent about a week at each company."

Burrus spent time at Google, JP Morgan Chase, DuPont, Accenture, EADS, Exxon, Mobil, Merck and Boeing.

"At the end of the year we spent two weeks at the Pentagon briefing the senior leaders of the Department of Defense on your findings," Burrus said. "This year we met two of the four service chiefs."

Depending on their availability, members of the fellows program will meet with all the undersecretaries of the four services and many three and four star general officers throughout the Pentagon.

"Our three major focus areas that we briefed at the Pentagon, dealt with recommendations on how to retain the best and brightest when going through downsizing," said Burrus. "Many of the companies that participated are going through downsizing or have gone through a large downsizing since the 2008 recession."

Burrus went on to discuss with the Pentagon's senior leaders best ways to retain the right personnel within the civil service pay system and uniform pay system during fiscal uncertainty.

"We made recommendations on how to tap civilian expertise during times of crisis which can be used in the DoD enterprise," said Burrus. "We proposed specific programs and then we spent a lot of time talking about structurally, how companies make bold decisions and shift resources in order to survive."

Burrus added that he saw a lot of parallels between the corporate sector in restructuring and what the Defense Department needs to do right now in terms of restructuring and reducing its costs.

Recommendations such as reducing overhead were made, all while maintaining the ability to fight the nation's wars and be ready when called upon.

"The stress that we feel: notably reduced resources and furloughs ... the private sector is feeling them, too," said Burrus.

Among the many lessons learned, Burrus learned a lot about what traditional guardsman go through when they are working outside the gates.

"The stresses felt by our traditional work force are just as great as the stresses felt here in the full-time force," he said.

Burrus also noted that, as is the case across the Air National Guard, the private sector work force has 25 to 35 years of experience that can't be replaced overnight.

"I worked in one of General Dynamic's high tech sector where the workforce is scheduled to retire in the next five to 10 years and they just don't have the replacements ready to go," Burrus said.

The parallels between the N.H. Air National Guard and the companies Burrus was involved with are striking, even though the missions aren't the same, both pride themselves on providing and supporting warfighters.

"Both organizations have a large number of highly professional, highly trained personnel," said Burrus. "The private sector has a mission to create a return for their stock holders; here we have a mission to be ready, willing and able to fight the nation's wars."

Burrus went on to say that the experience is something that will help him frame decisions as the operations group commander.

"Participating in this program is not something that is really tangible everyday but the experience helped me as a leader in the 157th Air refueling Wing," said Burrus.
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