While slyly avoiding the “recall” label, senior Air Force officials are inviting reservists — many who voluntarily or involuntarily left active duty in last year’s massive drawdown — to return to active duty for a few years. In an email sent to all reservists by Lt. Gen. James Jackson, commander of the Air Force Reserve, the service essentially reverses the floodgates that were thrown open to departure in 2014, begging thousands of airmen in more than 100 disciplines to rejoin.
It’s the latest signal of institutional panic. Too many airmen were cut from the force too quickly, and it now can’t do its job sustainably. There are critical, across-the-board shortages … coupled with a lack of imagination and more of the same re-heated rhetoric from the very top. Fuse this sense of paralysis with a penchant for micromanagement and a preference for propaganda, and you have the makings of organizational collapse.
Unfortunately, the basic direction of the Air Force is unlikely to change under the current leadership, which is why airmen should expect to remain mired in a chronically unsustainable situation for the foreseeable future. The current crop of senior officials now lamenting people shortages are the same ones who insisted on jamming a five year personnel cut into a single year, even as airmen across the force warned it was a terrible idea. Gen. Mark Welsh and Secretary Deborah Lee James have cultivated, deepened, and failed to remediate shortages of pilots and maintainers … arguably the two specialties without which the Air Force can’t even meet its most basic requirements.
Throughout it all, they’ve marginalized dissenters, held inconvenient facts at arms length, and not once taken person responsibility for any of the dozens of bad decisions that led to the current precipice. Not one general in the personnel business has been fired or disciplined, and in fact many have been promoted. Even now, the service is treating an arterial bleed with a band-aid … recalling reservists for a few years rather than lobbying Congress to give the service enough people to do its job over the long term. Soon, the FY17 budget proposal will be made public … and if rumors of its content prove true, there won’t be any growth in the personnel roster or any reduction in mission demand.
Focus might be the largest part of why this problem persists. It’s not clear senior leaders understand the plight of airmen or even genuinely appreciate their contributions. On December 17th, the anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight of a powered, controllable airplane, Secretary James used her Facebook page to celebrate a noted Air Force bandsman from the 1950s who later composed the theme to Star Wars. This fits into a pattern in recent times of focusing on peripheral or novel distractions rather than the core of what makes airpower happen.
Buckle up. No matter how many times the panic button gets mashed, nothing is going to improve until the current crop of leaders reaches instead for the ejection handles.
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