'Get on my bus': 10th LRS manages AF's largest coach fleet

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
"Get off my bus!" Those words greet each incoming class of basic cadets on in-processing day.

Chances are, the young men and women aren't thinking about the climate-controlled vehicle with cushioned seats as they keep their eyes locked straight forward, listening to the charge and corrections of their cadre. Taking care of those buses -- and by extension the cadets -- falls to a group of 27 people in the Air Force Academy's 10th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

The 10th LRS Deployment and Distribution Flight operates the Air Force's largest fleet of such buses: 11 coach buses, each of which holds up to 55 passengers, as well as five smaller 37-passenger vehicles. And it's hard to find a time when none of them are on the road: the flight drove more than 225,270 miles in fiscal year 2013, carrying nearly 141,000 passengers to and from events. That's the equivalent of driving three Falcon Stadiums (at the full capacity of nearly 47,000) around the world nine times.

Those buses comprise a small part of the 10th LRS's larger fleet: 233 vehicles in all, either owned by the squadron or leased from the General Services Administration. Sixty percent of that fleet consists of hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles. The squadron also owns three of the 11 large buses it operates and all five of the smaller buses, said Denise Lengyel, the Deployment and Distribution Flight chief.

'Magic Bus' deal

Bobby Speights, the flight's fleet manager, oversaw the partial transition from leasing to owning buses more than 2 years ago. The leased buses had started to break down, and the 10th LRS, which has a maintenance yard on the south side of the Academy, couldn't service the vehicles.

"We had a lot of down time," Speights said. "We had to find a solution."

He discussed options with logistics experts at Warner-Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and came up with a solution at no initial cost to the Academy. The buses are still covered under warranty, which means the squadron will save about $300,000 on maintenance for the next few years, Lengyel said. Even after the full warranty expires, the buses' power trains will still be covered, and maintenance will still cost less than the leases.

"The average lease for GSA buses with 1,500 miles per month is $5,000 per month," she said. "The odds of spending that much on maintenance are very small.

What works for the Academy wouldn't work for the overall Air Force, however, Lengyel pointed out.

"There's a resource tail that goes with maintaining a fleet," she said. "That exists here, but not in excess." What's more, many bases simply don't have maintenance yards or personnel, so leasing GSA vehicles makes sense for the larger Defense Department.

"But because of our one-of-a-kind mission, having a mix of (DOD) and GSA vehicles makes sense for us," she added.

Always Rollin'

The Deployment and Distribution Flight's mission is almost, but not quite, 24/7. A shuttle service offers transportation for cadets and cadet candidates to and from the 10th Medical Group Clinic. Buses regularly carry cadets to the airfield Tuesdays through Saturdays, and on weekends they provide support for athletic events, whether it's football, women's basketball or archery, Lengyel said.

That support is one way the flight supports more than 9,000 transportation requests per year, each of which starts with a request to the flight's scheduler.

"Say we get a request to transport cadets to the Waldo Canyon burn scar for a volunteer project on Sunday," Lengyel said. "We look at what assets are available, what drivers have legal driving time available, what the day before and after looks like."

Depending on those circumstances, the flight may offer a group of "U-Drive-It" vans, it might drive cadets, or it might charter a bus, she said.

"It's very similar to a flying wing and what the aircraft schedulers do to match iron to pilots' flight hours to mission requirements," Lengyel said. "Our schedulers have to know what iron is in the transportation yard so we can match a resource to a requirement.

The flight will charter transportation when it doesn't have the resources to directly support a request, Lengyel said. The Academy spends about $250,000 per year on chartered transportation, focusing on chartering trips outside the local area so they can keep their drivers local.

"What we try not to do is charter local to backfill because our local guys are on the road," she said.

Not Running on Empty

Like every organization affected by sequestration, the 10th LRS has felt a pinch in recent years, Lengyel said.

"Our new and growing missions just add to the challenge of shrinking budgets," she said. "We've seen our manpower cut, requests for support increase and the budget decrease."

One way the flight has worked to stay within its means is by consolidating transportation requests.

"We might have 15 people to pick up from Denver International Airport at 9 p.m. and 22 people to pick up at 10 p.m., so those guys will have to wait, and we'll consolidate those requests," she said.

The flight has also eliminated support for events outside the Academy's core mission. And in some cases, the flight has had to provide non-availability slips to requesting units, which must then procure their own transportation, Lengyel said.

However, the flight will continue to support major events like football games, graduation and Parents' Weekend, Lengyel said.

"It's enormous," she said. "We do it not only to facilitate guests but also for safety and security."

And normal business doesn't slow down during those major events, she added.

"For special events like Corona, graduation, Parents' Weekend, football games ... we're all hands on deck," she said. "We throw all the resources we have at these special events. But the rest of the Academy's missions don't stop. During Corona, the airfield is still doing sorties, and the Wings of Blue team is still jumping out in Lone Tree. Balancing all of those requirements and still earning positive reviews is a tribute to the talent these guys have."