Innovation leads way as Team Mildenhall Airman becomes ‘Green Belt’ certified in CPI

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere

A Team Mildenhall aerospace ground equipment instructor received his Green Belt certification recently, putting him in in less than two percent of people in the Air Force reaching that level of training.

Starting his continuous process improvement journey back in 2016 with Yellow Belt training, Tech. Sgt. Ross Kahle, now 373rd Training Squadron, Detachment 19, AGE instructor, went on to complete Green Belt training in 2017 before working hard to complete his certification in 2021.

“Green Belt consists of training people to see problems as improvement opportunities, and in order to do that they have to get in the right frame of mind of looking at things differently,” said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Holdenried, 100th Air Refueling Wing CPI process manager. “The training provides process-improvement techniques that are world-known and used.”

Training is online, consists of almost 40 hours of slides and module exams and is done at the individual’s own pace. To pass, individuals must get a score of at least 80 percent.

“The reason why the Air Force decided to put it online was there was no standardization of how people were training,” explained Holdenried. “It was done differently at every base, so in 2019 all the face-to-face learning was switched to online in order to provide consistent material and information being delivered to students.

Once students have completed Green Belt training and earned a certificate, they can then take further steps to learning more about Air Force CPI and Innovation, although very few go on to do so.

“Across the board, only about two percent of people who go through training ever get certified,” Holdenried added. “At RAF Mildenhall, our certification rate is about that. To become certified you have to have a project and improve a process using the 8-Step Practical Problem-Solving Method: clarify the problem; break down the problem and identify the performance gap; set improvement target; determine root cause; develop countermeasures; see countermeasures through, confirm results and process, and standardize successful processes.”

“Tech. Sgt. Kahle got his done very quickly – there are a lot of people who start working on a project then it kind of goes away when they realize it’s going to be a lot of work. He finished his project and was very driven to get it done. To be approved, all the projects get sent to the person’s major command – his went to AETC,” remarked the process manager. “Typically, whenever I see anybody’s work that goes to a MAJCOM, it comes back to me for corrections and questions. His was approved the same day, so he’s shown he knows what he’s talking about, that he understood how to improve a process and that he was good at project management.”

Holdenried explained that one of the requirements is showing the running of a project and dealing with many different people. A team with a minimum of six people is needed to facilitate a fix; it cannot be just the one person working on their own.

“Kahle was able to successfully do that. He’s very passionate about wanting to help people improve their working conditions through process improvement. You don’t always see that with people,” he said, adding that Kahle also assists him in teaching White Belt training at the First Term Airmen’s Center. Training is also regularly given to noncommissioned officers, senior noncommissioned officers, and squadron and wing leadership.

The AGE instructor’s certification project involved scheduling effectiveness at his training squadron, where all Team Mildenhall maintainers receive training at some point.

“Coronavirus caused issues with social distancing within the detachment and hindered the ability to fit students in the classrooms, so we ended up having to refuse some classes,” said Kahle. “So some of the other instructors and I got together to look at ways we could fix the problem. We were able to identify and solve a lot of pinch points to reduce the refusal rate. One result was increasing the training capacity to reduce refused courses.

“We then held a CPI event and I put together a team of subject-matter experts using the Lean Six Sigma principles and 8-Step tools from the Green Belt training to identify the problems,” he remarked. “We were able to identify what the wastes were and came up with an action plan to overcome them.”

The action plan included increasing the training capacity of the detachment, and as a result, extra training areas were created. Another problem was courses being refused due to a variety of reasons including Covid-19 precautions. Between July and December 2020, the 100th Maintenance Group and 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Group requested 106 maintenance training courses from Field Training Det. 19. Of those, 22 (equating to 21.2 percent) were refused.

The Det. 19 leadership wanted to reduce the refusal rate to zero, and Kahle stepped up and made it his goal to make that happen.

“We started the project in January 2021 and closed it in June,” said Kahle. “There were seven people in our team, and my biggest help was from Tech. Sgt. Nathan Busk, a scheduler for our detachment and the hydro instructor. He helped me come up with all the numbers as well as helping me clarify and validate the problem. He was also instrumental as the liaison between the training detachment and the maintenance groups. We’re all from different Air Force Specialty Codes and backgrounds, and that adds so much more value to a CPI event, because we can look at problems from a different angle and perspective.”

As the facilitator, it was Kahle’s job to lead everyone in the correct direction of finding and validating problems, improvement targets, finding solutions and putting them into action. To solve the problem of lack of classroom availability, the instructor and his team relocated storage areas and made serviceable classrooms. When building class schedules, shifts were staggered and instructors assigned their own classrooms so they were able to accommodate the course minimums while still adhering to Covid-19 rules.

Some of the courses had also been denied because of lack of aircraft availability. For certain courses an aircraft is required so instructors can provide hands-on training to students. Team members created a deadline for instructors to put in their aircraft requests on time, and a plan was put in place allowing instructors to accomplish all the backlogged training.

Kahle was presented his certificate of certification Aug. 18.

 “I feel very good about completing it, but still feel I have a long way to go,” said Kahle. “Green Belt is the very beginning of where I want to be; my next goal is to do Black Belt training. I love to help others and I love process improvement – but you don’t need to be certified to make change. Anybody can do that.”

For more information on Green Belt training, or to be put on the waiting list for the next available class, call DSN 238-4873 or commercial 01638 544873, or email