SecAF Fields Question on Manning Crisis, Takes Credit for “Stopping Downsizing”

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The Secretary of the Air Force’s latest choreographed “open door” session is just propaganda, and not particularly good propaganda. But there’s one sequence that is both particularly important and particularly regrettable.

A1C Hall asks a great question about undermanning at about 6:45. The answer he gets is a pathetic blend of slick fiction and hollow platitude. Watch below:


SECAF now wants us to believe she “stopped” downsizing after her VIP tourism effort led her to conclude there was a manning issue in the USAF. Sorry, but that’s pure BS. There was a manning problem long before the ill-advised downsizing of 2014 began, and all she had to do was listen to know that was the case. The downsizing she claims to have stopped … is the downsizing she herself started … and the downsizing she insisted be radically jammed into a single year rather than responsibly spread over five years as Congress legislated.

Her entire answer treats the now apparent manpower crisis like some sort of distant and immutable abstraction to be accepted as reality … part of the furniture of the universe. It’s portrayed as just something that happened all by itself … and yet something she’s now heroically correcting. This is something like a nurse leaving a patient to worsen in the E/R waiting room until the patient becomes critical … and then cloying for credit after finally, at long last, recommending a couple of motrin and a heat pack. Never mind that the patient is only acute because of the nurse’s inaction, and has no chance of surviving unless admitted to the ICU. Yay awesome nurse! Let’s take a selfie!

What’s missing from James’ response, not surprising given her appointed politician status, is a transparent, heartfelt, unequivocal admission that she herself caused the problem she now purports to care about, even if the vagaries she supplies make it clear she has no genuine intent to correct it.

At no point in Ms. James response did she acknowledge the threats to mission, morale, resiliency, and retention catalyzed and deepened by chronic manpower shortages. At no point did she swear to impale herself on a political sword to reverse the miserable effects continually inflicted upon squadrons as a result of serial bureaucratic malpractice. At no point did she promise to review deployment rosters, slash VIP frills, or punish commanders who treat airmen as a bottomless pool of free labor. And at no point did she call on Congress to increase the Air Force manpower budget by 20%, which at least the adjustment required to achieve sustainability under the current mission load.

In both manner and lexicon, Secretary James made clear that she doesn’t see a force-wide 20% manning shortage as a crisis … it’s just another “issue” that she and others are “working” … and evidently believe to be smotherable via varnished talking points, polished presentations, and saccharine reassurances.

I don’t buy for a second that she needed to visit dozens of bases — ironically consuming tens of millions of dollars that could have been better utilized paying salaries of airmen while sapping the productivity of her hosts — in order to understand there were manning shortages in the USAF. The most reasonable inference is that she and CSAF were going to cut 19,000 airmen in 2014 no matter what, because they felt they needed the money for fleet modernization and had the excuse of sequestration to justify their radical policy. 
They’re now pretending that they went “modestly” too far, and further pretending that they’re going to correct the problem. But they’re not. The budget for the next two FYs is done, and there’s no real manpower help on the way in those budgets. Meanwhile, as the enemy predictably votes, the world is getting more busy and more dangerous … and airmen are being pulled deeper into the chasm of chronic overstretch. Any number of “open door talks” and “lean in circles” won’t fix this. Only substantial and devoted focus, backed by policy action, will bring airmen the help they need.

Which is why, at least for the time being, it’s not going to happen.

Not enough pilots to fly our planes and not enough maintainers to fix them … but plenty of propaganda to hoodwink everyone into believing all is well. Except no one is fooled anymore. Secretary James and her fellow senior officials are responsible for having broken the force, and airmen increasingly get that. But don’t expect any acknowledgement, much less any accountability.

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