CWU News

CWU Instruction Program Helps U.S. Army Get Lean

The United States Army is turning to Central Washington University to improve its efficiency, working with the university to provide Lean Six Sigma (LSS) instruction to a group at CWU-JBLM (Joint Base Lewis-McChord).

The students were members of the Army’s 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The Night Stalkers, as they are known, provide aviation support for primarily nighttime missions worldwide, including through the use of specialized helicopters.

CWU professors William Braswell and Lori Erickson served as co-instructors through CWU Continuing Education. Both have earned a master Black Belt LSS certification, the highest designation.

The LSS method is a systematic approach to problem-solving that dates back to the mid-1980s. Its aim is to find ways for continuous improvement in a product or service through removing waste and reducing output variations. LSS can be project-specific or it can lead to an overall culture change within an organization.

“Army Special Operations is constantly solving problems, whether on a mission or at their compound,” Erickson said. “The value they find in what we’re bringing them is a more objective and standardized way to get through their problem-solving.”

The CWU course was tailored to the Army’s needs through a hybrid environment that offered a simultaneous combination of introductory, intermediate, and advanced LSS instruction. The training featured lectures and experiential learning activities that involved three challenges facing this specific unit: reducing helicopter-maintenance downtime, parts acquisition, and streamlining approvals for awards, including those presented to soldiers in combat.  

Overall, 15 students earned their intermediate green belts and five others received their advanced black belts. They included non-commissioned, commissioned, and warrant officers, which meant that the CWU professors had to be sensitive to military rank and protocol.    

“We had the executive officer of the battalion in this class,” Braswell pointed out. “He was in Iraq much of the time, but he joined our training sessions by video and maintained connections with his team.”

This was the second consecutive summer the Army sought LSS training for its personnel. Another session has been requested and will begin in November. In addition, Erickson said the Army is working with CWU to extend training to soldiers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and possibly, additional installations.