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New secretary testifies to commission on total force

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

The Air Force will rely more on its Air National Guard and Reserve components in the future with the aim to preserve more capabilities as the service seeks to reduce its personnel , the service’s top leader said Jan.9.

In her first testimony as secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James addressed members of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force.

The commission will make recommendations on whether, and how, the structure should be modified to best fulfill current and anticipated mission requirements for the Air Force in a manner consistent with available resources. 

James, who was formally sworn in as the 23rd secretary Dec. 20, 2013, spoke at length about the future of the total force. 

“I see our Air Force as a smaller Air Force over time, but a more capable Air Force,” James said, emphasizing the importance of developing leaders with experience across the components.  “I would like to see our Air Force 10 years from now be led by a chief of staff who has had major reserve component experience.”

The Air Force needs to do a better job of relying on its Guard and Reserve components, she said.  As a result, she feels this evolution will preserve the force and its capabilities.

On the topic of readiness, which service leaders have expressed concerns about since sequestration was implemented; James called into question the option of going to a “tiered readiness” model. 

“I’m not convinced at all that this form of tiered readiness is workable,” James said. “In fact, I’d say it’s not workable for the Air Force. We need to be ready right away, and not in a tiered approach.”

To maintain readiness, the service is slated to reduce personnel by up to 25,000 during the next five years, along with other cost-saving measures.

Looking to the future size of the Air Force, James noted every component will feel the impacts of force management.

“No component is going to be totally sheltered by force shaping and reduction,” James said. “We want to get the best defense for our nation, particularly when resources are scarce.” 

In 1993, James held the position of assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, and while that job prepared her for her commission appearance, she said she hopes the need for the conversation will disappear in the future.

“I hope 10 years from now we won’t be debating issues like this because it would be second nature,” James said.  “The key thing is to blur the lines between components.”

Throughout her testimony, James noted that developing the Air Force is an indefinite task you can never close the book on, but always improve upon.

“We will always be in a certain state of evolution,” James said. “The final chapter on this is not yet written.”

The Commission is tasked to submit a report, containing a comprehensive study and recommendations, by Feb. 1, 2014, to the president of the United States and the congressional defense committees.

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