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The Air Force’s top officer addressed manning, service priorities and success in the Global War on Terror Oct. 20 during his first visit to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility since becoming chief of staff.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the service’s prior strategy of reducing 40,000 active-duty positions to free up money for aircraft recapitalization had “failed.”
“We came down quite a bit and didn’t save a nickel,” he said. “The reason that happened is because our personnel costs are going up. … The most expensive component of our capability now is people. It used to be platforms. It’s now you and me.”
The chief of staff said the service is projected to reach 332,700 in fiscal year 2010, but would have to be very judicious about going any higher. Instead of squeezing manning, reducing force structure would be considered, he said.
“The alternative is squeezing force structure,” said General Schwartz. “We are probably going to do some of that and there will be push back.” The challenge will be from those worrying they will lose capability or assets, but the service will work with stakeholders to articulate and advocate how that can be done without loss of capability.
“We will see our way through all of that,” he said. “It is very important for all of us to look for value; to look for ways to minimize costs and be more efficient and to do the best job we can with that precious taxpayer dollar,” he said.
Although manning and recapitalization are priorities, the chief of staff said the top priority is getting the nuclear mission right. He suggested that the Air Force’s missile mission is influential in all operations because nations consider the full range of our military capabilities when they act.
“The missiles in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota (are part of the) calculation…it’s the backdrop. It’s part of our capability … so, getting it right in the nuclear area is very important for that reason, and because these weapons are America’s most lethal weapons.”
Priority two, he said, is keeping our promises to our partners.
“Making sure there is not an American Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine on the ground who turns a corner and doesn’t know what they are about to face is a solemn obligation,” said the chief of staff. “It is also a solemn obligation to make sure when our (partners) do get wounded that we do everything we can to make sure we recover them to the best medical care on the planet to mitigate their injuries. We do that every day. We deliver precision munitions in a way that minimizes collateral damage and makes others successful every day. We fuel aircraft. We feed our people, we house our people. We support our folks. We deliver mail. These are not just trivial things. We are all in.
“What we ask you to do is to make those who depend on you the champions of our success,” he said. “You will not hear (Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley) and I pound our chest too much about what the Air Force is doing because what we want is for the chief of staff of the Army to do that … For that to happen, you all have to do your thing every day with precision and reliability.”
The chief of staff said the military will probably be a feature in Southwest Asia for some time to come as allies in the region value our presence. He said negotiations between U.S. and Iraqi governments will determine the length and strength of America’s presence in Iraq depending on conditions on the ground.
“However, it is clear there will be an increase in presence in Afghanistan,” said General Schwartz. “So, I do not see an overall reduction in the level of effort for the time being. Some of this is simply going to shift theaters from Iraq to Afghanistan until we contain the Taliban insurgency.”
The chief of staff said it is vitally important America succeed in the Global War on Terror.
“What that implies in everything, from those missile fields in Montana to (Southwest Asia), is that we commit ourselves every day to giving America our best,” he said. “That we commit ourselves to make sure those other members of the joint team never go short, so they never feel that we are not all in.”