Today’s Quiz: How Did the USAF Get So Short-Staffed?

Lots of positive news coming out of the Air Force recently. Many signals that the current leadership team gets it and is committed to making the right inputs to solve the personnel shortage at the root of so many other organizational ills.

But they’re being forced into some unpleasant choices. Choices that will haunt the Air Force for years if not decades to come. Choices like promoting 100% of captains to major, promoting the maximum number of NCOs permitted by law every cycle, and paying pilots exorbitant sums of money to keep flying. These are just a few examples of countless subtle tradeoffs being made every day in an attempt to simply hold the service together until reforms with longer lead times can catch.

Why are these choices necessary? Put simply, because the prior Chief of Staff — now a board member at Northrop-Grumman — cut airmen from the ranks while ignoring a festering morale problem.

Why did he choose such a reckless course of action? Here are some possible answers, paraphrased from the offerings of social media participants:

  1. He was too much of a sissy to argue in Congress for more people, despite knowing the service’s morale was being crushed by undermanning.
  2. He didn’t realize the Air Force needed more people because he forgot to clean the shit out of his ears and listen to his own commanders and airmen.
  3. He was too loyal to his cronies who had the job previously to throw them under the bus by admitting they royally mangled the USAF.
  4. He was afraid if he argued we needed more people, he might lose funding for new weapon systems, including those to be manufactured by the company he would later join as a Director.
  5. All of the above.

The answer isn’t knowable, though we can take educated guesses. We now have a committed CSAF who is getting it right, but it’s important to not step beyond the past so quickly that we fail to extract the lessons capable of preventing repeat mistakes. Seems to me most of the Air Force’s senior officers knew their big boss was leading them to ruin … yet most of them failed to render a challenge. Perhaps next time can be different.

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