Gen. Arnie Bunch seemingly has no end of priorities.
The commander of Air Force Materiel Command, headquartered at Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, oversees operations that evaluate and support emerging technologies, test new equipment before sending it into the field, buy supplies including uniforms and airplanes, service and maintain aircraft and other equipment, and supply all Air Force facilities worldwide with food, housing and other needs.
While executing those operations, Bunch is also trying to increase diversity within the ranks, provide emotional support for about 87,000 employees with mental health issues and minimize spread of COVID-19.
The general shared a broad overview of those varied efforts with almost 100 people Wednesday at a lunch hosted by the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association, the Northeast Indiana Base Community Council and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. The event, which was at Ceruti's Catering, attracted 80 in person; the rest attended virtually.
Attendees included officials with defense contractors Raytheon, BAE Systems, L3Harris Technologies and Ultra Electronics USSI. Bunch manages a $60 billion annual budget.
“The reality is, we don't build a lot of things ourselves. We need industry. We need industry to be successful,” he said via Zoom.
Bunch was scheduled to travel to Fort Wayne for the event but changed his plans after Ohio Department of Health officials recommended anyone entering Ohio from Indiana self-quarantine for 14 days due to relatively high novel coronavirus infection rates in the Hoosier state.
The U.S. Air Force Academy graduate has worked in numerous posts, including as the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics at the Pentagon. Bunch, who earned a master's degree in national security strategy from the National War College, has commanded at the squadron, group, wing, and center levels.
Air Force Materiel Command – “materiel” means military materials and equipment – includes the Air Force Research Laboratory. Officials in that center work with universities and industry to project what technologies will be developed 20 to 30 years in the future. That includes both hardware, such as aircraft, and computer software.
“We have to get technology in the field with speed of relevance,” Bunch said, adding that airmen also need to be trained in using new technology.
Bunch stressed the need for collaboration between the military and civilians. “Every one of us has to work together,” he said, “or we don't get the mission done.”
Bunch's focus on increased diversity includes reviewing how the Air Force handles recruitment, training, discipline and rewards. He said progress is being made but changes won't happen overnight. The only way to increase diversity in upper ranks is to advance diverse candidates up the leadership ladder, which takes time, he said.
Bunch, who considers U.S. military capability the best in the world, anticipates difficult decisions lie Air Force leaders' future if the federal defense budget is cut.
Their challenge, he said, will be to work with industry to maintain that dominant position.