Air Force leaders address quality of life issues, changes

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Airmen can still expect high-caliber quality of life programs that will take care of them and their families despite the changes being made within the service, leaders here assured recently.

"Quality of life continues to be one of our top three priorities," said Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel at the Pentagon. "It's an area we look at carefully, and we have a long tradition of providing for our folks. We are most concerned with what it takes to care for our expeditionary Airmen and their families."

Like many other career fields and Air Force programs, the services organization faces cuts in personnel and funding due to the Program Budget Decision 720 directed by Congress. It is a situation that has forced leaders to re-evaluate the definition of quality of life, said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley.

"It's very important for us to define quality of life," he said. "In my opinion, it's making sure Airmen have a quality workplace, (and) adequate housing on and off base and in the dorms. It's providing childcare and libraries, and ensuring Airmen have access to nutritional meals. But at the same time, we have to look deeper and determine what are benefits and what are perks."

Both leaders said that while a top-notch fitness center is probably seen as a quality of life benefit to Airmen, a towel handed to them is more of a perk, as are 24-hour gym access and big screen televisions, for example. In a time when the Air Force must make every dollar count, these perks can be costly, and so the Air Force may no longer provide funding for them.

"Nobody likes to be inconvenienced," said General Brady, "and we may sacrifice some convenience, but I don't think those are the kinds of things we are about. We are more concerned with what will affect families and individuals who serve, and those are the things we have to pay attention to."

The consolidation of some dining facilities and satellite fitness centers were determined through patronage and cost savings. Those locations, however, will ensure that they still have the capability to provide for their population with eating establishments both on and off base, he added.

"We have to evaluate all facilities and how we spend our money," he said, "but it's important Airmen know that their readiness will always be at the forefront. Winning the war on terror is the Air Force's top priority. We are committed to maintaining the quality of life for our deployed warfighters, so they can continue their focus on the mission."

General Brady also emphasized that services devoted to family members, such as childcare, will not be greatly affected and there are no plans to close childcare centers.

"I think childcare is very important and critical," he said. "We are a family force, and so we have people who serve this nation who need to be able to take care of their families. We're expeditionary, too, so people are gone a lot or work long hours, and there are dual-military and single-parent families. Things like childcare are critically important, and so we must maintain that capability to give confidence to those who serve that their families will be taken care of."

Chief McKinley said he doesn't foresee any negative impact on recruiting or retention based upon the changes to quality of life programs.

"We'll still maintain a great quality of life for our Airmen and families," he said. "We all have to understand that our Air Force must make difficult decisions today to ensure we have the right capabilities for the future."