KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFNEWS) --
The Air Force has been deployed to the Middle East in one fashion or another for more than 16 years and, according to the service's top officer, Airmen should expect this trend to continue for at least the next 10.
"I believe we will be in the Middle East for a very long time yet," said Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff.
"We are fighting a relentless enemy who will not simply give up and go away," the general said. "It will take time and effort to stabilize that region."
This means Airmen will continue to deploy to the region and take part in the fight against terrorism. Because of this, the general said there are several issues that need to be addressed within the Air Force's air and space deployment cycles.
One of these is making sure everyone who is eligible to deploy does so.
"Right now on any given day there are 10,000 Airmen who are listed as nondeployable because of some medical reason," General Moseley said.
Of these 10,000 Airmen around 5,000 have medical issues that would keep them from deploying -- issues such as pregnancy, broken bones or diseases. The other 5,000 may also have physical problems, but these are ailments that may not exclude them from deploying or that can be taken care of while deployed. High-quality medical care is available at most deployed locations.
For this reason, there are new regulations that will make it harder for individuals to be released from their deployment cycles.
The goal is to have every available Airman assigned to an air and space expeditionary force cycle. This will decrease the number of individuals who receive short- or no-notice deployments due to last-minute shortfalls.
"We are an expeditionary Air Force," said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley. "With that said, every Airman needs to be physically, mentally and spiritually ready to deploy."
However, both General Moseley and Chief McKinley are quick to point out that this is not a widespread problem in the Air Force. There are over 600,000 people in the Air Force and the 5,000 or less who may be excluded from deployments for unexpected medical issues equates to a very low percentage. On the whole, Airmen are doing what's asked of them and more while deployed across the globe.
Another issue the general addressed was deployment lengths. While most AEF rotations are about 120 days, some have recently increased to 180 days.
"I don't want to do that," General Moseley said. "I'm looking at this hard to determine if 120-days is the way to go."
The reason is footprint. If an air frame stays in theater for more than 120 days, there is phase maintenance that needs to be performed on the aircraft. This means more maintainers are needed to work on the aircraft and more people are needed to support these maintainers.
"There is no difference in the way we do business if we deploy for 90- or 120-days," General Moseley said. "But once we go above the 120 mark, then we will be increasing our unit size by upwards of 15 percent and spending a lot more money to do so."
Recent force shaping initiatives have also impacted the Air Force's deployment cycle. The Air Force is half as large as it was during the Cold War era, but 10 times as busy, General Moseley said.
"Every day 53 percent of our Airmen are committed to a combatant commander," he said. "That's more than the Army, the Navy and the Marines."
This shows the importance of the total-force concept, he added. The Air Force is a team, made up of active, Guard and Reserve Airmen who work together to accomplish the mission.
"You can't look at an Airman and tell if he or she is active, Guard or reserve," General Moseley said. "We all wear the same uniform, do the same jobs and help make this Air Force the best in the world."
Most of this is due to the quality people that make up this force.
"We are the smartest, most educated and technologically proficient service on the planet," the general said. "But what we accomplish, we accomplish together." Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)Click here to view the comments/letters page