Air Force Realignment Aimed at Boosting Retention, Morale

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Air Force Realignment Aimed at Boosting Retention, Morale


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


Expeditionary units promise predictability flexibility to meet U.S. deployment needs

Stressed by burgeoning demands and plummeting morale, U.S. Air Force leaders plan to change their approach to conducting operations worldwide.

By January, 200I, they expect to have in place a new management blueprint whereby the Air Force will be broken down into 10 air expeditionary units.

These air expeditionary forces (AEFs) will draw staff and equipment from the existing infrastructure. Under this organization, however, there will be predictability in airmen's schedules and the workload will be more evenly spread.

Senior Air Force officials say this model will allow the service to reshape itself from a Cold War juggernaut to a more flexible force capable of handling a wider array of conflicts.

Each AEF will have 175 aircraft. There would be a mix of F-15 fighters, A-10 closeair support aircraft, KC- 10 air refuelers, F117 fighters, or B-2 stealth bombers.

Separate Units

Force commanders will integrate geographically separate wings, groups and squadrons. The units will train together.

At a Pentagon news conference, Acting Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters and Gen. Michael Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, say this new structure will result in rapidly deployable forces that are lighter and more responsive to threats than current units.

The result, they assert, will be a lessstressful life for airmen because they will be able to plan for known deployments in advance.

"During the Cold War, the Air Force was a garrison force focused on containment and operating as wings primarily out of fixed bases in the United States, Europe and the Pacific," Peters says.

But, during the past decade, the Pentagon closed many of those overseas bases, so military operations have largely involved selected squadrons deploying from U.S. installations to hot spots around the world.

That approach, he notes, has taken a toll on Air Force people during frequent, long deployments and on airmen left at home station to fill the void.

"We hope to reduce the number one complaint we hear from our forces-we are deploying them too often, on too little notice, and are working them too hard when they are at home filling in for others who have deployed," says Peters.

Currently, air expeditionary forces are formed ad hoc and have not necessarily trained together before they are deployed. Peters says the AEF model will also heavily rely on Air Force reserve components.

Until the air expeditionary forces concept matures, however, they will handle missions "below two major contingencies," Ryan says. "Once we reach that level, all bets are off." If the United States were involved in two major contingencies, the Air Force would revert to current doctrine.

'he kind of contingencies we've been supporting are not going to go away," Ryan says. For that reason, "We need to transition to the AEF so we can better meet the mission and take care of our airmen in the future."

On Call

At least two of the 10 air expeditionary forces will be on call at any time, Ryan explained. Each force serves a 90-day oncall rotation once every 15 months. 'This will give our airmen some stability, and they will be able to make plans," Peters says.

The unpredictability of deployments in recent years and the drudgery of repeated no-fly zone enforcement operations in Iraq resulted in widespread dissatisfaction by pilots and drove many of them to quit the Air Force and pursue careers with commercial airlines. The AEF concept in part seeks to address this matter.

Under the current structure, additionally, Air Force base commanders find that, while units are deployed, many jobs at home are left undone until the airmen return.

As part of the AEF paradigm, officials will seek an increase of 5,000 support personnel. Ryan says the Air Force will fill these 5,000 positions by contracting out jobs and shifting airmen into career fields that deploy most often.

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