We Don't Need More Troops, Heck We're Cutting Back!
Some might be surprised to find one of the military services 'downsizing' in the middle of the War on Terror, but it is true.
The Air Force is trying to downsize, while faced with (according to some of the links below) extremely high retention rates. They're in the middle of Phase II of "Force Reshaping" right now, and as the widely circulated letter below indicates, all is NOT well with the morale of the force. I am told that the individual involved got the letter vetted by his commander prior to transmission, but just in case he didn't, I'm not going to be circulating what base it came from and who wrote it. All other words (with typos) were as written when I received it. (Link referenced in the letter was added by me for completeness)
22 Mar 2006
XXXX XXXXXXXX Road
Lieutenant General Roger Brady
1600 HAF Pentagon
Dear General Brady
I am writing in response to an article posted on Air Force Link which quoted your testimony to the Senate about Force Shaping. I am separating voluntarily under Force Shaping and have some comments that I feel are not accurately reported or viewed by those up the chain. I am unsure where this disconnect begins; but either someone is not passing accurate information from the ground up, or it is not being receiving in the spirit with which it is originating.
Force Shaping has had a significant impact on the morale of not only the members affected, but everyone around them, from airmen to squadron commanders. Lieutenants who were not vulnerable this time around wonder when their time will come. NCOs who have seen cuts in junior airmen and now officers wonder the same thing. Airmen wonder what else they have to look forward to. In light of the Chief of Staff hinting at six month deployments, and the Air Force planning on cutting tens of thousands more positions, every rank has to wonder who will fill these deployments, and how much more often they will deploy. These are not all directly related to Force Shaping, but they tie together when you consider its effect on the myth of ‘job security.’ No one is safe anymore. I know commanders who don’t believe they would have made a similar cut at that point in their careers considering their records.
Six months ago I was a career officer. I was prior enlisted in the Marine Corps and have 13 years of total service. There were other considerations in my decision to leave, but Force Shaping, and its strike against any modicum of job security was in the top three. I love this country, and I relish the idea of leading men in battle, it is almost a life obsession. I have a paper from second grade that states: ‘I want to be a Marine. I want to live on a ship. I want to help people.’ I was blessed to have the chance to do all those things, and then when I started a family, I chose to leave the Corps for the Air Force because of the quality of life and deployment length. Of course, we are now in a heightened state of war, which changes everything, but for me the trade off of more and longer deployments becomes a much bigger consideration when there is the constant chance that the Air Force will decide they no longer need my services, and that all that time will count for nothing. It is really a no-brainer. I would be willing to risk my life if I knew that the Air Force would reward me by allowing me to serve to retirement (provided I continued to serve with excellence and honor, of course). But it no longer does, so I cannot.
To imply that ‘Blue to Green’ and a guarantee of one year or 18 month deployments in the Army is a morale saver makes absolutely no sense to me. These branches are worlds apart; there are reasons people choose to join the Air Force. I venture to guess that unless an individual had already planned on going to the Army they would see it only as a last ditch option to continue in service, not as an ‘opportunity’ and that their morale would be anything but higher. As for the Guard and Reserve, when they face the same (or greater) deployment vulnerability as the active force, with fewer retirement benefits, and the strong likelihood of facing another Force Shaping cut, that option falls short as well.
Another aspect that affects morale is the way this problem has been dealt with. Everyone knew at least three years ago that the junior officer imbalance was a problem. I don’t know about the inner workings of the highest bean counters, but from the view below, it looks like these decisions are being made with out consideration of the facts, and that if someone had faced these realities head on years ago, we wouldn’t be facing this process right now. Why would anyone think that this type of decision making would change, especially when senior leadership is saying morale isn’t a problem?
My personal opinion is that the Air Force has and will force good people, with exactly the decisiveness, initiative and courage the Air Force needs, out the door; and many of the people who ‘make the cut’ will be folks who can write themselves a good OPR, but lack the courage to make the tough decision at a crisis point.
, First Lieutenant, USAF
CC: U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
The General's Testimony
The General's testimony referenced in the letter included the following:
"The Air Force began 2006 with a significant force imbalance -- too many officers and too few enlisted Airmen," .........
...."To fix this problem, officers under their initial service obligation can now voluntarily separate from active duty service earlier than they would have otherwise been eligible. Some of those who don’t separate will be considered for involuntary separation by a force shaping board later in the year."
As a less cynical Public Affairs officer also noted in an article where she put on a very brave face:
The subcommittee voiced concern with the effect force shaping may have on Airmen morale and stress levels. General Brady said he doesn’t foresee any major dips in morale.The General also stated:
“As we look forward, we have to look at our focus,” he said. “We have to look at where our skills are, and if we are using them efficiently. We’re looking at about 40,000 people (being) cut, but we’ve bounced these numbers against the war plans, and this is what is going to work.”
Pay No Attention to the Elephant in the Room
What is significant about the General's testimony?
It is what was NOT emphasized or acknowledged that is important.
First, why is a particular Officer/Enlisted balance so important? In and of itself, it is not. It is only important if you are locked into a particular force concept that requires it. Officer/Enlisted Balance is fungible. Pick a ratio and build a rationale behind it. The late, great Carl Builder, would probably have referred to this kind of process as the Naval Method of Analysis: pick your solution and build your argument around it.
Second, what is the driving force behind Air Force downsizing in the first place? Its not expressed anywhere, other than to talk about meeting top line Congressionally mandated manpower numbers. I see three driving reasons behind the move. From least to most important:
1. Offering officers a chance to 'Go Green' [besides providing the basis for a humorous powerpoint presentation made by some company grade officers that also included 'Go Brown' (UPS) 'Go Yellow' (McDonalds)] hints as to what must be part of the answer: getting more bodies for the Army.
2. Another likely driver is what has become a rather unhealthy mentality that does not fully take into consideration this caveat:
Unless your business is toppling tyrants and preserving freedom through the force of arms, the 'business' model in many respects does NOT translate to the military realm.
3. We (the AF) were locked into the Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) operational and organizational model by an unrealistic expectation of smaller post cold-war force sizing, imposed upon us by that @#$% Les Aspin and his &*%#$ Bottom-Up-Review (BUR). In short: We are reaping the unintended consequences of the 'Peace Dividend' of the Clinton Administration.
We are frozen at a force size and composition that required us to implement the AEF concept to carry out the mission even before the events of 9/11, and it is absolutely politically unacceptable in the current climate to ask for more troops so we can change our way of doing business. A suitably sized Air Force, is one where we we do not have to chronically abuse our troops to fulfill our mission. One could use up a lot of time and energy tracking down the facts (start here if you'd like) and deducing the origins of the modern AEF if one did not live through it. On the surface, it seems born out of the lessons learned in Desert Storm, but it really was born from the realization that after Aspin's BUR we couldn't pull off another Desert Storm.
There was also a huge shift in Air Force culture that began during Vietnam, but the AF could have recovered from until the BUR, and that was the rise of the Fighter Mafia* (There is another huge post lurking in that statement alone). With a 'fighter' mentality, deployability is absolutely paramount. If fighters could (in a practical manner) strike foreign countries from their home bases on a three-hour mission, the AEFs would never had materialized.
*I love fighters....as fighters: for air dominance against airborne and surface-to- air threats to airpower assets. You know, what they're good at...