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commentary

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

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.

Categories
Short stories

The bag smashers

The bag smashers
a poem

we met in a large oval
except for the outer belt
watchers
standby ticket travelers
plodding to the inside
with turbulent guts
i heard their deep retch
knowing a mess
may come
they asked bad stewards
ignored their connections
discounted claim checks
discounted gates onward
calling for old baggage
we wheeled novel luggage
and tied multicolored
bandana handles
for a United trip
picking up from a great jet
mending our new strains
then hard-buzzed warnings
of pushing flare chittering
some matching sets
‘merged through fringed boundaries
those shabby cases thunked
to work ‘round again
this terminal was home
left picking up
carrying it beyond

Categories
News

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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News

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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News

Education center releases board game ahead of year in review

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — The Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee has released its year in review feature article every year for some time. Still, for this challenging 2020, it is adding a fun twist ahead of that review of accomplishments.

TEC released its Year in Review Board Game ahead of the standard writeup as the organization’s way to put a lighthearted end to a year of home isolation and COVID-19 stress.

“The game, if played widely through the holidays by our staff, families, and alumni, may help alleviate the pandemic life of monotony and social distancing as something that gathers most families to the table,” said TEC officials. “We hope that our customers and others across the services give it some play too, and learn a bit about our organization.”

You can download the 11″ x 17″ board game at www.angtec.ang.af.mil/News/Art/igphoto/2002550525/.

Categories
commentary

Commentary: Experiences step up our insight

One of the biggest things you hear around the U.S. Air Force these days is accelerating change, so you read stuff like leveraging inclusion, innovation, and diversity.

We’re talking about open-minded approaches that welcome the input of all service members.

But how do you get that insight? We may repeatedly be looking at issues and asking ourselves, “How can that person, just because they look different than me, possibly influence this mission?” Maybe it’s unanswered because we don’t take the time to appreciate personal experiences.

Categories
News

Lankford EPME center reflects on fiscal year’s adversity, agility, victories

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — The U.S. Air Force’s enlisted professional military education center in East Tennessee looked back at the Fiscal Year 2020 this week to reflect on the adversity, innovations, and accomplishments, perhaps like no other during its 52 years.

The Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center is the Air National Guard’s total force PME center that graduated thousands of students since last October, despite pandemic restrictions.

They reported 1,411 NCOA graduates and 397 Airman Leadership School graduates during the fiscal year. That involved 11 classes, including six newly designed virtual in-resident-remote EPME classes and five traditional EPME classes.

Categories
Short stories

Time tossed

Time tossed
a short story

They told us not to go into the DYE site during our initial briefing because it was unsafe. There were other reasons given; although, I can’t recall them. Radiation? Monsters? But after we got stranded, we wandered. Thirty minutes of snowshoeing on the hard snow seemed little distance away from the camp, still on the flat horizon. I followed Neil in a sliding tumble, up and over the bank, down to the ladder. When we stood hunched at the bottom of a snow bowl, the sudden, dim light temporarily blinded me after coming out of the bright arctic landscape. Neil snickered at the metal ladder leading up to a steel hatch as every rung except the top four sunk into the miles of solid ice below. There was no telling how far it descended. Before climbing, I took one last look at a snowy circle surrounding the raised structure and steel support columns like an oil rig on a frozen ocean. My thick boots barely fit between the rust-layered, round, metal rungs, up through the opening at shoulder height into a black hallway full of musty chilled air and snowdrifts.

Categories
News

Future cyber defenders graduate to shape total U.S. Air Force

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – U.S. Air Force students ready to cross the stage, September 22, 2020, during the U.S. Air Force Cyber Protect and Defend Course graduation ceremony held at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in East Tennessee. The ceremony broadcasted online and featured guest speaker Brig. Gen. Keith G. MacDonald, director of Air National Guard Operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – Graduating students of the U.S. Air Force Cyber Protect and Defend Course took hold of diplomas, September 22 at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base while those present and online celebrated the completion of the first class with the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center.

What they learned would undoubtedly defend the nation from cyber-attacks, officials said.

“What you are going to do is as important as in any mission that we do in the Air Force today,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Keith G. MacDonald, director of Air National Guard Operations.

The featured graduation speaker, General MacDonald, congratulated the 18 students and recognized the organizations, leaders, and people who worked together to bring the course to TEC for the Air Force. A recording of the ceremony is available online at https://vimeo.com/460674186.