Command chief panel discusses enlisted issues

  • Published
  • By Airman R. Michael Longoria
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
Change, readiness and winning the war on terrorism were the three top issues discussed during the command chiefs' forum at the 2006 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here Sept. 25.

"We must deal with changes and focus on the No. 1 priority facing us today: winning the war on terrorism," said Command Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Bishop, Pacific Air Forces. "As a service, we were born out of change in 1947. We must ensure we communicate the variety of changes impacting the enlisted force, but we also must keep ourselves focused on our primary task." 

Chief Bishop was one of six Air Force command chiefs sitting on the panel responding to questions from an audience of nearly 2,000 people. Other panel members were Chief Master Sgts. Richard Smith, Air National Guard; Chris Redmond, Air Force Office of Special Investigations; Joseph Barron Jr., Air Mobility Command; Michael Gilbert, Air Force Special Operations Command; and David Popp, Air Combat Command. Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley moderated the forum.
Several of the Air Force's enlisted senior leaders addressed Air Force Smart Operations 21, or AFSO 21. One question posed to the command chiefs called for allowing first-term Airmen to become familiar with their jobs before contributing to AFSO 21. 

"That's a good point, but we need to listen to them," said Chief Barron. "Our young Airmen are smart, and they have some terrific ideas. So maybe we gradually train our folks in AFSO 21, start off with a little bit of technical training and give them more as they advance through enlisted professional military education." 

Chief Barron said all major commands are in the process of sending one person to specific training to become the enlisted expert in AFSO 21. 

"That person is going to be receiving 26 weeks worth of training, and that Airmen is going to be the expert for each of our commands." 

Emphasizing the need to work smarter, Chief Popp reminded the audience that the Air Force is reducing its size by about 40,000 positions. 

"In ACC alone we have 9,200 people who, beginning (in) October, we are not paid to keep. So we have to get smarter." 

Chief Popp also said AFSO 21 helps Airmen understand the process of their jobs to eliminate waste and standardize many of the existing processes. 

"What I find is that the Air Force is based on personality and not process. We've all been to a duty section where they say 'The person who handles that particular issue is not here right now; can you come back tomorrow?' That's based on personality, and not process. To eliminate waste and to keep AFSO 21 going, we have to know what the processes are so we can train and get everyone on board," Chief Popp said.

Another area of concern was the enlisted evaluation system and whether fitness performance results should be added to the enlisted performance report. 

"We're still looking at that issue because we have to determine what is fair," Chief Popp said.

Chief McKinley added the Air Force is looking at developing a new EPR form, although no timetable has been set for its testing or implementation. 

One master sergeant in the audience said he had a love for the Air Force, but with force shaping and downsizing, he was having a hard time motivating the same feelings in other people. He asked the command chiefs what would be the one piece of advice they would give to help motivate Airmen who may be questioning whether or not they should continue to serve in the Air Force. 

"I was the vice president of a bank during the 35 years that I've been in the Air National Guard. I made a lot of loans, and I foreclosed on a lot of loans. But that was a job," said Chief Smith. "Serving in the Air Force is a passion. The clothes I wore to my civilian job were just that -- clothes. This is the uniform of my country. I still get that lump in my throat every morning when I put on the uniform. I've never lost that fire, never lost that passion. 

"Serving in the military and serving your country is different from a civilian job. What we do is not just a job, and it's not just a paycheck. If that's how (Airmen) are looking at it, then we're going about it wrong," Chief Smith said. "Most of our Airmen don't look at it that way (and) wear this uniform with great personal sacrifice. Most can make more money outside of the Air Force, they certainly can spend more time with their families and within their communities because they wouldn't deploy, but they have the passion to serve." 

When asked how force shaping will affect Airmen, Chief Smith emphasized that the Guard is not cutting personnel, but is looking at other areas in order to meet budget objectives. Chief Gilbert said Airmen have plenty of opportunities to remain in the Air Force as long as they are ready, willing and able. Specifically, he said there are several AFSOC-specific jobs open to people who want to retrain and stay in the Air Force. 

At the end of the forum, which lasted about 90 minutes, Chief Popp said today's Airmen need to remember the four "R's" of today's force -- "readiness, readiness, readiness and readiness."

Chief McKinley echoed those comments. 

"We are at war, a war that is going to continue for some time into the future. We must continue to focus our efforts on supporting the warfighter overseas and at home, and we must ensure we don't get distracted from this mission."