For as long as anyone can remember, the Air Force has harbored unbreakable addictions to two things: (1) general officers and the bands who celebrate them, and (2) do-nothing deployments. As the Service has shrunk to its smallest size ever, generals and deployments have held steady, comprising an every-growing proportion of the Air Force experience.
Now comes a fresh signal that it may, at long last, be getting serious about confronting one of these.
According to a well-placed minion who labors in the Air Force’s global flesh-peddling machine, the Service is seized with a new initiative to substantially cut the numbers of airmen on extended deployments to bases across the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The source, corroborated by others who also insisted on anonymity, says the initiative is an outgrowth of the Air Force’s response to the pilot retention crisis. Time and again, when asked why they are trampling one another in a mad rush to the exits, pilots are citing the incessant requirement to spend 6-12 months in desert hellholes — away from family yet serially underemployed. In the absence of a national emergency, they and their families remain on indefinite war footing, many of them breaking under the strain.
As the Air Force entertained the argument, it started to look more critically at the sheer numbers of deployed personnel. It started asking tough questions about why certain deployments exist and why they’re lengthy enough to put a massive strain on families. The analysis grew beyond a narrow look at pilot retention into a broader assessment of operational tempo. This led to a policy push from its senior operations staffer, which is now beginning to materialize as a series of directed actions.
Field commanders and senior leaders on the staff of Ninth Air Force — the Air Force’s principal warehouse for deployment requirements — have been recently put on notice: the days of automatically getting and keeping everything they ask for are coming to a rapid close. The Air Staff has issued three directives:
- Reduce requirements to the max extent possible. If a job can be done from home station or rear headquarters, it will no longer be recognized as a required deployment.
- Review every 365-day deployment for necessity and reduce to the lowest possible number. Every billet will be reviewed independently and field commanders will have to justify those they want to keep. Same for 179-day deployments.
- Reduce, to the extent possible, 179-day deployment lengths to 120 days. This will be the standard going forward.
While the Air Force would not confirm the information, several insiders confirmed they’ve seen the related email traffic.
Assuming this is actually happening, it is something long overdue — something we’ve repeatedly called for on these pages and something the founder of this blog argued vehemently when he was still in uniform.
Deployments have been grinding the Service into a fine powder since long before 9/11/01, representing widespread amorality among senior leaders. They’ve reflexively and unquestioningly sent people to the desert as if the nation were at war for its survival rather than engaged in a series of primarily land-based counterinsurgencies and nation-building projects. They’ve lurched for institutional relevance as a means to budgetary ends … rather than taking the long view, which would have suggested spending effort to renew and reinforce exhausted organizations before the inevitable arrival of a major conflict that will tax airpower heavily and unavoidably.
Exasperation over deployments reached its crescendo during the tenure of Gen. Mark Welsh, who refused to touch the subject. His staff pretended to care about the tempo confronting airmen. Meanwhile, cynical games were played with the personnel rulebook to ensure demands for deployed flesh could be satisfied regardless of validity.
The whole sordid mess devolved into a sad joke. Here’s how airmen saw it up until this year:
It’s refreshing to think that’s about to change. The only valid reason to take someone away from home — at a taxpayer cost of $1M per year per airman — is to engage the enemy directly or provide direct support to those who do so — support that can’t be provided from standoff.
Invalid reasons include, but are not limited to: making coffee, making slides, briefing slides, sending slides, editing slides, answering a general’s emails, keeping a general’s calendar, “coordinating,” providing perceptual reassurance to various third parties, subsidizing various parties or economies with faux economic activity, “service before self,” “because Dice said so,” because the Army thought it was valid but didn’t want to deploy someone itself, and “to help your career.”
Looking forward to hearing about concrete results, and having those results confirmed by Big Blue.