Air Force's top chief discusses issues Published Nov. 13, 2002 By 1st Lt. Dani Burrows Aeronautical Systems Center Public Affairs WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- The most important thing any airman can do is "recognize that what you do is valuable to our nation's very existence and what we stand for," said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray during his visit here Nov. 8."When I speak to young airmen, I let them know that their service is valuable," he said. "It is our Air Force. All I ask of them is that they do the job the best that they can and make the commitment that they signed up for."Although retention rates are improving, according to Murray, the Air Force continues to focus on keeping its quality people by working toward greater predictability of deployments, balancing the force and improving quality of life.Murray pointed to recent strides the Air Force has made in the last few years.One example is the recent addition of enlisted airmen enrolled in master's degree programs at the Air Force Institute of Technology here."Our enlisted (members) at AFIT are a testament to the growth in professionalism and educational experience of our enlisted force," said Murray, referring to the eight airmen currently attending the institute."Our challenge is to ensure that we match their education and skills with requirements that will continue to improve the quality of our Air Force, not only for these eight, but for those who will come after them," he said.Murray also discussed the new four-plus-one dormitory concept.The new style has four airmen sharing a common living area, complete with a kitchen and living room, but having their own bedroom and bathroom. Under the current one-plus-one plan, two airmen share a kitchenette and bathroom, but have their own bedroom.Wright-Patterson is one of eight bases that have incorporated the four-plus-one plan into 2003's construction budget."The four-plus-one is one of the ways we're looking to improve the quality of life for our young airmen, just as we looked at the one-plus-one years ago," said Murray.Murray also talked about recent improvements in pay and compensation over the last three years."We've done well at balancing the mid-level (noncommissioned officers') pay table," he said. "We still have a gap (in pay) for senior NCOs."Murray said he will advocate for a targeted pay raise this year and in 2004 to address that gap.He also discussed the recent increase in tuition assistance. The assistance now pays 100 percent of tuition and fees up to $4,500 a year, covering tuition at most colleges and universities, according to Murray.Additionally, the Air Force is improving military family housing by increasing the square footage of units, he said."Senior leadership will always continue to evaluate a need for and to work to improve the quality of life for our people through benefits and compensation," he said.Another topic Murray discussed was operations tempo, which he said was probably the single most important factor in an airman's decision to stay in the Air Force."The ops tempo is not going away," he said. "Our goal is to be able to balance and utilize our forces in the most equitable way."Although we are still relying heavily on Guard and Reserve forces, it is time to send them back to their families and civilian employers, he said.One of the goals is to maintain the air and space expeditionary force deployment rotation schedules and continue to improve on the process."We're committed to 90-day rotations and 15-month cycles for our people," said Murray. The Air Force is doing that now for about 90 percent of those deployed, he said, with the exception of high-demand units and stressed career fields."We're working hard to improve those stressed career fields by bringing new accessions into certain career fields and continuing voluntary cross training into those areas," he said. "We're looking to improve some of the imbalances in the force structure."More importantly, Murray said, people need to know that they are valuable."Our Air Force is heavily tasked, but there's hardly an airman in our Air Force today who can say that what they're doing is not important and meaningful, and they can certainly say that they're making a difference in our mission," he said.