Since taking over as the Air Force’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Dave Goldfein has shown he’s serious about institutional reform. He’s taken several steps to get the service back on track … from acknowledging the crisis of the unfolding pilot shortage to emphasizing the core importance of the squadron as the Air Force’s organizational building block.
In a memo dispatched August 19th across the force, Goldfein (and the purely ornamental Secretary Deborah Lee James who did nothing about anything for the best part of four years but is now happy to sign co-sign and collect credit) did something airmen have been begging their leaders in vain to do for years: he slashed non-mission-related additional duties, eliminating, reducing, and re-assigning non-mission tasks to allow airmen in squadrons to focus more intently on the mission. The language in the memo is startlingly sincere.
Read for yourself.
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Cynics will say this won’t change anything. While their perspective isn’t totally unwarranted, they’re to be ignored in this case. Goldfein is serious, and he’s publicly tethering himself to this commitment immediately after his confirmation, leaving himself open to criticism for several years if he fails to follow through. He does this knowing he’s under a microscope much more finely tuned than his predecessors faced in their early days.
Skeptics will say that while this is an important step, it doesn’t have much chance of coming to fruition because of its reliance on the restoration of the CSS, which senior leaders admit can’t be done without more manpower funding.
Check out the accompanying Fact Sheet, which contains a detailed breakdown making it clear just how much Goldfein is pinning this initiative on bringing back orderly rooms.
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Those skeptics have a valid point. While it makes my heart soar with optimism that we have a Chief who so clearly gets it and is so manifestly committed to putting the Air Force back on a path to mission focus and organizational sustainability, we all know that a vision without resources is nothing more than a dream. To make his plan work, Goldfein can’t wait for the plodding wheels of Congress to turn. He must find manpower savings elsewhere in the budget that he can de-fund in order to fund the billets necessary to rebuild squadrons.
Where can he find those savings?
Airmen have plenty of suggestions about that. We’ve been asking that question for more than three years and the answers are as simple as they are consistent. Start with bands. It’s fair to maintain one funded band. Slashing the rest would yield a few hundred billets worth of funding. Next: enlisted aides and flight attendants. These are not military positions. Remove funding and re-purpose it to orderly rooms. If generals can’t figure out how to cook their own dinner at home or make their own coffee on the road, it’s time for them to retire.
But don’t stop there. Why do we need a nearly 4,000-person public affair apparatus? So we can churn out amateurish propaganda and maintain web sites and social media pages no one reads? Cut this enterprise in half and rededicate the funding.
Finally, it’s not in the best American tradition to shuttle our generals around like each is Julius Caesar. Slash the VIP airlift and staff car budgets in half, along with the drivers, maintainers, and other support personnel feeding these spending streams. Plow those funds back into administrative support.
These ideas are just the beginning. There are dozens of places to find funding … if we have the will to make the necessary policy adjustments and deliver the bad news to those who will be on the losing end of doing the right thing for the institution.
A decade ago, the Air Force sensed the need to slim down, but it went about it the wrong way. Instead of getting modernization spending under control, cutting frills, and trimming waste, it embraced the tortured logic that operational excellence could be had with mediocre support … or more accurately, self-support. It’s taken a long time for officials to recognize that mistake. But they finally have.
Now comes the hard part: turning things around when no almost one believes you’re serious. There’s only one way to prove them wrong … and that’s with serious action to match the words that have now, at long last, been communicated.