Views from the fishbowl: Getting to know the new AFMC commander

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Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander, provides remarks during the Air Force Materiel Command assumption of command ceremony inside the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, May 31, 2019. AFMC manages the research, development, acquisition, test and logistics services that keep Air Force weapon systems and warfighters ready for combat. (Air Force photograph by Wesley Farnsworth)

The first thing that Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. placed on his desk when he arrived at the Air Force Materiel Command headquarters was not a nameplate, laptop or a to-do list for his first few days in office.

Rather, it was a clear glass fishbowl containing a single orange goldfish with wide eyes staring out into the space.

“It’s my reminder that as the commander, I live in a ‘fishbowl,’ and everyone is watching everything that I am doing each and every minute of the day,” said Bunch. “It’s a personal tease to remind me that I need to be on my ‘A’ game all of the time, because I am always the commander.”

The small town Tennessee-native and dedicated family man got his start in the Air Force not because of any grand desire to be an Air Force officer. Rather, the service offered him an opportunity to be the first in his family to go to college, and he fell in love with the people, mission and commitment to a greater cause, setting the stage for a lifelong career of service for his country.

“When I got accepted (to the Air Force Academy), my father actually went out and bought a boat with the college money he had saved. That became the family joke — Dad spent all the money on a boat and told me to ‘do good’ because the money was gone. I started a journey that I thought would be just and few years and fell in love. I’ve been very blessed,” said Bunch.

When Bunch assumed command May 31, he began his seventh command tour in a career that spans multiple positions across the AFMC footprint. A graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, Bunch conducted developmental testing in the B-2 Spirit and B-52 at the Air Force Test Center early in his career. He also spent time in AFMC positions at the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFMC headquarters, in the program office and has held leadership positions at the squadron, group, wing and center levels.

“I was in AFMC when it was born. I was a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base and got the opportunity to meet with Gen. (Ronald) William Yates, the first commander of AFMC. I remember him telling us testers that if we wanted to come work in the program office and do something beyond the test world that he would make that happen. And I asked for that, and if you look at my career, I followed along on the path he set out in the acquisition world,” he said.

Bunch’s widespread experience across the AFMC mission set has provided him with a strong appreciation for the breadth and complexity of the critical nature of the command’s work for the Air Force. However, as he settles into the leadership role, he recognizes a need to “get regrounded” on all that is happening across the mission.

“I need to ‘squint with my ears’ as General Goldfein has said,” said Bunch. “What I really want to do is listen to and ensure we are properly position to support the National Defense Strategy and that we’re properly set up to support and drive the delivery of the Air Force we need. To start that, I need to listen and get more informed on everything.”

For Bunch, AFMC plays a critical role in the future Air Force laid out in the NDS, and it is critical that all Airmen across the command understand just how important their day-to-day mission is to the nation’s future.

“If we don’t field, and we don’t acquire, and we don’t sustain, and we don’t make ready, and we don’t advance technology or have a nuclear deterrent and the right infrastructure in place to support the mission across the Air Force, then the Air Force can’t succeed,” he said. “As the Air Force makes decisions on how to grow the force to accomplish what we need to do, we in the Air Force Materiel Command need to come up with options as to how to do that in a timely manner.”

Though Bunch recognizes the need for the command to adapt for the future, his first few weeks as commander have reaffirmed the same observations he made during his early days, and that it is the professionalism and dedication of AFMC Airmen to executing the command mission is the cornerstone of its success.

“The men and women of this command, they are the ones who make things happen. They are the most valuable resource in the whole enterprise. It’s not the technologies. It’s not the facilities. It’s the people,” he said. “They’ve always been committed to this mission, dedicated to the activities that they do and understand that they are pushing critical technologies out into the field to make us successful as an Air Force.”

As he settles into the command position, Bunch, who firmly believes in servant leadership, wants all 80 thousand Airmen of AFMC to understand that as they continue to execute their critical mission to use him as a resource to overcome those obstacles they need to succeed.

“I believe the (leadership) pyramid is inverted. I work for all the Airmen so they can be successful,” said Bunch. “Commander is the most important role we give Air Force officers. You are responsible for the organization and the care and feeding of all of those people, and for ensuring they are successful by creating the right environment to make sure they are able to thrive.”

Just as the command needs a team to succeed, he views his own command as a team effort made possible by the dedication and devotion of his wife and family.

“I can’t put into words how happy Caroline and I are to be part of this team. It is true privilege and honor to be given this opportunity. We are 100 percent fully committed to make this successful,” he said. “We are thrilled to be here.”