Airlift Tanker Association Virtual Convention: Connecting Mobility Warriors in the Digital Age


The 2020 Airlift Tanker Association (A/TA) Virtual Convention was held on October 27-29 with the theme “Connecting Mobility Warriors in the Digital Age: Big Data/AI and the Roaring 20s v 2.0.” The Chairman of the Airlift Tanker Association, retired Gen Duncan J. McNabb, kicked off the event by welcoming attendees to the 52d annual convention. McNabb said the theme seemed appropriate because so much in our environment is virtual and added, “What a challenging year, but in this time and in this space, we come together to celebrate what we do. We come together for a myriad of reasons, and despite the COVID­19 pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and unrest, all of you continue to answer the call to serve. To raise your hand for freedom and give hope to people in need.”

McNabb highlighted several major Air Mobility Command (AMC) accomplishments that occurred over the last year, which included the transport of the Army 82d Airborne Division to Central Command (CENTCOM) in response to Iranian aggression; technological advances in Joint All-Domain Command and Control and Advanced Battle Management System; the first KC-46 oceanic coronet; constructing the largest C-130J formation in history; delivering COVID-19 personal protective equipment across the world and transporting patients for care; delivering humanitarian aid to Beirut after the explosion that rocked the country, to the Caribbean in the wake of a hurricane, and to Columbia following the Venezuela refugee crisis.

Although the online platform was a new experience for all involved, McNabb welcomed attendees to navigate unchartered airways together with the all-star lineup of keynote speakers that included the Honorable Shon J. Manasco, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Pentagon, VA; Gen Charles Q. Brown, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Pentagon, VA; Gen Stephen R. Lyons, Commander of United States Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base (AFB), IL; Lt Gen Michael A. Loh, Director of the Air National Guard, Pentagon, VA; and Lt Gen Richard W. Scobee, Chief of the Air Force Reserve, Arlington, VA.

The opening keynote address was delivered by the Commander of AMC, Gen Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, Scott AFB, IL. Van Ovost rolled out the way forward for the command as she said, “Our new priorities are to develop the force and advance warfighting capabilities to maximize full-spectrum readiness and generate the credible capacity required to project the Joint Force and ensure strategic deterrence.”

“While we focused on combat operations in the Middle East for 30 years, our adversaries developed the warfighting concepts and weapon systems specifically designed to defeat our capabilities,” Van Ovost said. “Now, rapid advancements in technology and the increasingly low cost and ease of diffusion have increased our adversaries’ lethality and accelerated the timelines for when they can threaten our global presence and operational capabilities.

AMC must accelerate change now to compete, deter, and win. If we don’t change quickly, Air Force wargaming suggests the country could experience significant losses in future high-end conflicts involving attacks on military and commercial logistics networks, preventing the United States from projecting quick and decisive power.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Charles Q. Brown further discussed the need to rapidly advance the Air Force’s capabilities, outlined in his paper, Accelerate Change or Lose. Brown is no stranger to commanding in the toughest posts around the globe and stressed that our advantage as a global superpower is being challenged, so we must accelerate change because we as a nation have a lot to lose. He stressed that as a fighting force, failure is not an option.

After defining why change is needed, he laid out what to change with action orders that are as simple as A, B, C, and D: Airmen, Bureaucracy, Competition, and Design Implementation—the key aspects to where the Air Force is heading. He added a major factor that will accelerate change is increased innovation. “We need to be in innovation, and we can’t be risk-averse to get there. Innovation is hard and often met with resistance. We need to foster an environment of creativity and empower Airmen and champion their ideas. We need an environment where Airmen aren’t afraid to bring up and push their ideas and also be willing to fail.” Brown added, “Here is what I ask all of our leaders to do: Are you deliberately working to engage innovation in your unit? Are you willing to take a little bit of risk … and reward failure? Those that actually tried and failed versus those sitting on a bench watching and critiquing. How are you recognizing those mavericks?”

In the closing address, CMSgt Brian Kruzelnick, AMC Command Chief, reiterated the need for accelerated change and spoke of the new command priorities. He said developing the force and advancing warfighting capabilities is what AMC does every day by training and ensuring that all assets are in place while projecting the force and ensuring strategic deterrence is what AMC can bring to the fight. The foundation that ties all the new priorities together is full-spectrum readiness, which means Airmen have the proper training and are prepared at a moment’s notice for any adversary. Because of constant readiness, AMC can generate credible capacity to deliver a product that can be counted on. Innovation encompasses all of the AMC priorities, and every Airman is responsible for executing them.

For those unable to watch the live stream of the speakers and presentations during the virtual convention, videos are available at

What we do is a service to our nation, and many of us have a passion to serve. When we can make things better for others, not just for ourselves, it is an inherent satisfaction of making a difference. In the end, we are here for each other.

“You are not a military global power just because you can move something from Texas to California. … You are a military global power because you can touch any part of the world at any time. Nobody can move at the speed of relevancy like AMC. We project the Joint Force combat capability on our shoulders, on our backs,” he said.

Kruzelnick stated that the unexpected circumstances of 2020 have left many socially distant and disconnected. Before this year, resilience and diversity were an issue, but “I see a string that attaches all the challenges we are facing. It all centers around connectiveness. … In time, we have atrophied our muscles connecting people to people, people to the unit, and people to the mission. As leaders, we need to connect people to the service that they joined, people to the command, people to their peers, and people to us as their leaders,” he said.

When speaking of incentives for innovative Airmen, Van Ovost said, “What we do is a service to our nation, and many of us have a passion to serve. When we can make things better for others, not just for ourselves, it is an inherent satisfaction of making a difference. In the end, we are here for each other.” She added that monetary awards were not available for every idea, but that “every idea makes you better, makes your Airmen better, makes the Air Force better.”

She reflected on the negative pressure conex that was used to transport COVID-19 patients safely and how determined Airmen worked tirelessly to take it from concept to implementation within 90 days— and effort that saved lives. It was an incredible feat and a driving force for inspiration. “That’s what drives me. The passion to take care of others, make them great, and help them achieve their goals,” Van Ovost said. “Let me tell you who inspires me. You do. The Airmen getting out there every day and making the mission happen. It gives me joy to visit at the different wings and say thank you to Airmen. It makes the long hours and the hard decisions worth it.”

Kruzelnick added that an individual’s contribution to the Air Force is tied to impact, not to an Airmen’s rank or career field. He said, “Every day that you get up and get after it and try to make the organization you work at a better place makes you a highly impactive player. We are saving lives; I don’t know how much more we could incentivize you than being able to say that you have saved a life. You are making a better place for those who follow us to grow up in, which is the true measure of your impact.”