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Wright eyes indefinite enlistment, awards program changes for enlisted force

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Air Force’s top enlisted Airman provided updates on the status of issues affecting the enlisted force Oct. 27, 2017, at the 2017 Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright addressed hundreds of mobility Airmen, current and former Air Force leaders, joint and combined forces partners and industry representatives, as part of the three day professional development event focused on the rapid global mobility enterprise and the Airmen who execute the mission.

Wright’s remarks highlighted initiatives nearing completion and fielding, such as adjustments to awards program timing and process requirements. He also brought news of options, like a possible indefinite enlistment timeline, which are earlier in the consideration process.

He began by addressing the culture of Air Force units and how leadership and the establishment of positive culture impacts retention. Retention of enlisted aircraft maintainers and other Airmen with skills key to operational success remains a significant challenge and focus in the Air Force and in Air Mobility Command specifically.

"My question to you is, 'how do we keep them?'” Wright said. “Not just how do we retain them, but how do we keep them motivated, how do we keep them encouraged, how do we keep them inspired? Because that's how they come to us. They come to us motivated, encouraged, inspired, agile, innovative, ready to roll. They come to us feeling a sense of connection. They come to us feeling a sense of purpose.”

“But, somewhere along the way, something happens,” he said. “Some of it has to do with the nature of our business; some of it has to do with our extremely high ops tempo, which I don't perceive decreasing any time soon. Some of it has to do with what we as an Air Force have to get after: some of the additional duties, computer-based training, and moving things out of the way. We are doing a lot of work in that arena. But most of it has to do with the level of leadership and encouragement you provide… the environment you create as leaders in our Air Force. That’s how we get Airmen to stay, how we keep them motivated and inspired. That’s how we keep them resilient; how we utilize them and keep them thinking and being innovative.”

Wright then provided updates on the ongoing changes intended to reduce administrative burden, increase mission focus, give Airmen time back and enhance quality of life. Noting that upon return to the Pentagon, one of the first things he has to do is arrange to reenlist, Wright received a round of applause from the gathered Airmen.

"Don't clap,” he said with a smile. “I've been in the Air Force 28 years, almost 29. And every four years, I’ve got to go through the 'Yeah, I'm still here.' Now, it's a time-honored tradition; I love it, but I think we'd like to get to once you hit your 15-year mark, then you're an indefinite enlistment -- you're good until your high year of tenure. If you have a selective reenlistment bonus or something, we'll make sure you have the right active duty service commitment. Because I believe at 15 years of service, most of us are plugged in, dedicated and ready to roll. We're still doing the research. We like to go slow to go fast to make sure we understand all of the benefits."

A topic closer to fruition is reduction of the time needed to produce an awards nomination, as well as adjusting the weight of mission focus and job performance on the forms.

"We're really close on our goal of reducing the number of lines on our [awards packages] for the annual awards program,” Wright said, noting the current number of 27 bulleted accomplishments required for a nomination. “So we'll get that down to about 16. I like 12 and four. So 12 in job performance and then four in the ‘Whole Airman’ concept. That gets us to the point where 80 percent of what you're evaluated on is your job and primary mission, and 20 percent is the other things that we ask you to do as Airmen.”

Once that change is official, Wright said he hopes major commands and other earlier levels of competition will follow suit and mirror the requirements at the Air Force level.

As Wright expressed his commitment to looking for ways, along with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, to recruit, train, motivate and retain the Airmen critical to conducting operations and delivering hope around the globe, he challenged the A/TA audience members as well.

"Here's one thing I would ask you to focus on: be committed. Be committed to our Airmen, be committed to our Air Force, be committed to being great leaders. Be committed to being great Wingmen. Reach deep down inside and recommit yourself to this Air Force and to these Airmen,” Wright said. “They need you and they deserve you. Because they want to be committed to you. And so of all the things that I can ask you to do, and there's a lot -- the one thing I would ask you is to decide. You can't be on the fence. Because Airmen know it and they see it. At the end of the day, attitude truly reflects leadership."

In conclusion, Wright channeled the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius with a slight adjustment of the emperor’s famous quote.

"Don't waste your time arguing about what a good Airman should be. Be one!"

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