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Commentary: For usability’s sake

My blood pressure is high.

I know it is because I’ve been monitoring it for some time.

But this is not a health editorial for those who pull their sleeve up daily for a pressure cuff — with memories of saltier meals — will testify.

We march through many stressful changes in the services. Some of us are managers and designers in the comprehensive technology that encircled us. And we know the universal question of what systems win battles and what makes us boil. Is it usable?

I push the Start button on my BP monitor and calmly hope for 120/80: it’s simple, intuitive, and makes sense.

That one-button design is something that smart people factored in for me, and now it enhances lives. Perfection in simplicity, it’s said, comes from managing the details.

But it still seems that I woke up one day surrounded by the complex pushed down on me.

So when I finger through the intricate — the messes of poor design so many spend defeat and time on — it makes me cry for usability.

I was shopping at my market when a disabled woman sitting in an electric cart turned to me, frustrated, and said: “Could you hold this [door]?”

She wanted to reach into a fresh vegetable cooler to get an item.

“I don’t know why they put these on,” she said. “More handles makes no sense,” referring to the pandemic.

I held the flimsy plexiglass door open, recalling exposed vegetable sections during my last shopping trip. I offered more help, but the woman thanked me, said she was OK, and wheeled on.

She was right. Cooler doors are installed throughout that market now. I need to grab handles everywhere — using a disinfectant wipe. Opened, they cram shopping carts and shoppers together. I tried to think from the market’s financial perspective, how they save energy. There’s no way they make the experience quicker or safer.

On my BP monitor, I’d probably rate that usefulness 130/85.

I was due a computer-based training course. The services have them as part of our readiness. Emails warn those with an approaching due date, and it’s a good start.

But I navigated through menus to find it from two similar-looking but different online learning sites. First, I stumbled through the correct security login certificates. Then I froze three web browsers. Finally, I picked from like-named course titles incorrectly and considered if popup messages involved my needs.

They did not. After navigating nearly 40 minutes, I accomplished the 10-minute CBT. Others maybe gave up. We have schedules. Some started in a good mood, and by the end of that training, were tight-fisted. How much knowledge did it assume from customers in a chain of critical actions to completion?

That user-experience felt like a BP 140/90.

I’ve tried to take deep breaths when I encounter designed systems not inclusive to users but serve managers or are dust-covered and haphazard. I am certain that you have examples.

Often, I consider if the “close enough for government work” idiom is the reason. Or the “they’ll figure it out” brush off. Then I bite my tongue, but now it comes to this.

As managers, I feel we can do more in familiarizing ourselves with customer’s experiences. Some call it proactive usability testing. We continue seeking improvements, fixing things before they break, and always make stuff more useable. Others call it empathy. 

I saw a social media post by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass in December concerning the “U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Action Orders to Accelerate Change Across the Air Force” and the “call to Airmen to move forward aggressively in the push toward change.”

Chief Bass shared a meme of a complicated military website menu to make a point. It was similar to my online training story. I am thankful for her empowering post. I realize that a people-first approach cannot develop fully without systems and designs that value usability.

Usability fits into the four CSAF Action Orders of Airmen, Bureaucracy, Competition, and Design. It begins with studying and appreciating users. It applies through hard work on improvements, with simplicity and ease of use. When we do not support that continuous effort, it is exasperating to others.

There are books on usability that can help with innovations. Why not study them? Our efforts may not be as simple as a single button like my BP monitor, but it can undoubtedly uncomplicate the complicated as we accelerate change and lower this tension.

(U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith is the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s public affairs manager and studied Professional and Technical Communications with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute.)

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News

Photo coverage: Cyber Protect and Defend Course graduation

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Chad Raduege, the director of Cyberspace and Information Dominance, and chief information officer for Headquarters Air Combat Command, spoke as guest speaker for graduates of the Cyber Protect and Defend Course, February 17, during a ceremony at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in East Tennessee.

After six weeks of learning, the Airmen and Space Force Guardians were the first official graduating class on the campus and part of the Mission Defense Team training.

TEC is the Air National Guard’s total force training and education provider.

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TEC designs new challenge coin in leader development, future missions

The Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee is marketing its identity and strategy with a new challenge coin as it shifts mission, values, and image.

This month, the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center began using the coins as means of recognizing its contributors and performers. It is in addition to the commander’s coin awarded in those merits.

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CMSAF joins 300+ Airmen in EPME virtual-training discussion

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass joined a teleconference with more than 300 Airmen enrolled virtually in NCO academy and Airman leadership school with instructors at the Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center in East Tennessee.

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Air National Guard training and education center reviews 2020

By U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — Taking a look back at a jarring 2020, the Air National Guard’s I.G. Brown Training and Education Center staff said that they faced extraordinary challenges with bold ideas, innovation, and teamwork amid isolation and unfamiliarity.

Like past national crises, the COVID-19 pandemic made a demarcation line, but with an impact like no other. The year was marked by before health protection conditions and after.

TEC is now into its 10th month of the deadly virus that suspended most in-resident classes in March and pushed staff and faculty to rethink every facet of meeting, teaching, and serving in uniform.

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Air Guard’s Lankford EPME Center graded HIGHLY EFFECTIVE in Program Management

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – The Air National Guard’s primary campus for training and education in East Tennessee recently achieved the highest grade awarded after a U.S. Air Force review of its enlisted education for total force Airmen.

The Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center, a division within the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center, earned HIGHLY EFFECTIVE by the U.S. Air Force’s Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education in a Program Management Review.

“COVID-19 can’t stop the passion and energy of Team TEC!” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kenneth Lozano, the commander, in an email to faculty and staff.

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commentary

Commentary: Managing the ‘JMHOs’

There are times when personal opinion is valuable, and there are moments when it’s inappropriate. This balance with subjectivity stresses the importance of transparency in our media.

If we live in a world where everyone reports something, professionals have a particular onus to source it. The cold, hard fact is that cold, hard facts and personal beliefs are equally viable when adequately identified.

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News

EPME Center graduates hundreds through virtual classes, ceremony

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – More than 10,000 watched the virtual graduation ceremony of U.S. Air Force Airmen enrolled in virtual in-residence, remote NCO Academy and Airman Leadership School, broadcast live July 13, to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s Facebook account.

Family, friends, and coworkers used the moment to directly share the Livestream at least 30 times, “like” it more than 100 times, and submit more than 150 positive comments of support and congratulations. A recording is at https://lnkd.in/ejhp_Rv.

“Congratulations to all today’s graduates.” and “You are the future of the Air Force. Aim High!” and “Yeahhh my baby girl!” and “We are so proud of you.” were among the prevailing sentiments.

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News

FAQs for virtual in-resident remote NCO Academy and Airman leadership school

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – With so many things impacted by COVID-19, the U.S. Air Force response included a suspended NCO academy and Airman leadership school for Airmen. Both courses are requirements for promotion to NCO and senior NCO, as well as provide essential knowledge for aspiring leaders.

Here’s the good news: they are available remotely now through virtual in-resident remote enlisted professional military education.

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News

Education center staff and faculty push their development, despite adversity

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee did not stop their own personal and professional growth in the face of teleworking.

Leaders noted how the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s 80-plus staff and faculty enrolled in online learning. More than 30 Airmen joined recently in a 20-hour course entitled, “leadership engagement, increase communication and trust,” which included individual coaching sessions.