The 50th annual Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium brought top Air Force leadership to Grapevine, Texas, Oct. 25-27, to address issues of interest to the mobility force and the Air Force as a whole.
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein highlighted the way the Air Force is retaining and developing Airmen to be prepared to compete in today’s contested environments.
“We have returned to an era of great power competition where the challenges we face are complex and require creative solutions,” said Goldfein. “One of our jobs as leaders is to create the environment to unleash the brilliance in this room … to think through these challenges and acknowledge that there are opportunities resident in each.”
In an effort to enable that environment, leadership has rescinded or reduced thousands of restrictive and outdated Air Force Instructions, and encouraged Airmen to embrace innovation and their role in the joint force. For leadership, reducing the red tape is an enabler for the rapidly-changing force.
“We stop telling Airmen how to do everything, and tell them what to do instead,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
Empowering Airmen to find the best way to meet mission requirements is just one of the ways top Air Force leaders are preparing the force for the new era.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright recently announced that the Air Force is extending the high year of tenure from eight to 10 years for senior airmen, from 15 to 20 years for staff sergeants and from 20 to 22 years for technical sergeants.
“I want to get after those things that equate to lethality and readiness so we can all pay tribute to a long, courageous heritage of not being afraid to make the changes that we need,” said Wright.
Wright encouraged Airmen to embrace change and recognize that it has been a part of the Air Force’s history from the start of the Air Force’s existence.
“Change is what we do because we have to,” said Wright. “Our enemies are changing. The threats are changing, so it’s only natural that we change to maintain our competitive advantage… We’re doing what we need to do to maintain a lethal and ready force.”
Still to come are changes to basic training and a revamp of the Enlisted Performance Report, said Wright.
“The most significant thing that I will be working on over the next two years is a new performance management system,” said Wright. “Most of the responsibility lies with supervisors … I think that responsibility should lie with the member, and the supervisor is there to validate what you’ve done.”
The Air Force has taken many steps to improve quality of life for Airmen. It’s created more-flexible parental leave policies, eliminated many additional duties, and added opportunities for mobility pilots to select a flying-only career track. However, Goldfein said that addressing retention requires looking further than only quality of life initiatives. The best way to retain Airmen, he said, is to ensure their service is rich in experience.
“When it comes to retention, I actually think the things we do to improve quality of service are going to have more-lasting impact than quality of life,” said Goldfein. “I’ve never had an Airman come back to me from a deployment and say, ‘Hey, in this entire deployment I went on, man this food was good… That was the best room I’ve ever stayed in.’ But I have had an Airman come back to me and say, ‘I trained to do that mission my whole life, and I was part of something really special. I’m going to remember that forever.’”
Maintaining full spectrum readiness is a focus of Gen. Maryanne Miller, the Air Mobility Command commander.
“While AMC has operated in uncontested environments spanning several decades, we must now be prepared to face challenges in multi-domain operations—air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace,” said Miller. “Where a competitor or adversary uses kinetic or non-kinetic capabilities in an attempt to disrupt, delay, or deny U.S. operations in any domain, we must rise up to meet that challenge.”
In an age where Airman innovation and multi-domain advances are key to operating in the contested environments of today, Airmen are being asked to hone in on their sense of purpose, but they aren’t expected to do it alone.
Goldfein says he leans on his squadron commanders, and views them as foundational to setting the right tone and conditions for success.
“The reason I’ve been in and have stayed this long is I’ve been blessed by inspirational commanders at all levels that inspired me to want to be better, and they created this environment where the right thing was really easy and the wrong thing was really hard… So, if we can get the right development and selection of inspirational commanders at the squadron level, I think that’s going to have as much of an impact on retention as anything else we do.”