WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In the two weeks since Acting Secretary
of the Air
Force F. Whitten Peters and I announced our intent to move the Air Force
into the 21st century as an Expeditionary Aerospace Force, we've
received a great deal of feedback on our plans. Almost universally,
airmen and folks outside the Air Force reacted enthusiastically to the
Nonetheless, a critic has contended that our vision of an expeditionary
aerospace force was a quick fix in our efforts to solve the problem of
high operations tempo. In fact, the EAF concept was eight years in the
making. Since the end of the Gulf War, we've been wrestling with
various ways to respond to the increasing number of contingencies that
require us to deploy forces around the world while maintaining
high-quality service at the bases from which these forces have deployed.
This challenge has taken a high toll on our people, both on those we
send to remote locations as well as those whose workload at home station
is expanded to make up for the absence of their teammates.
Six months ago, we commissioned a small group of planners to use the
lessons of the past eight years to devise a new framework to meet the
demands of today's challenges. The underlying requirements were
straightforward. We wanted to:
-- Provide U.S. military commanders in chief the right force at the
right place at the right time, whether the mission involved humanitarian
relief or combat operations.
-- Reduce deployment tempo by building more stability and
predictability into the way we schedule our people to respond to
-- Take full advantage of the vital contributions of the total force --
active duty, civilians, Reservists, and Air National Guardsmen.
The product our planners came up with -- the EAF concept and the Air
Expeditionary Forces that will allow us to provide aerospace power
rapidly and decisively, anywhere and anytime -- achieves each of these
goals. Eight years of experience and six months of intensive study --
this was anything but a quick fix.
Now we are making every effort to ensure our people fully understand the
concept and how it affects them. As we announced two weeks ago, many
specifics of our plan still need to be worked out. Building AEFs from
units across the total force is a huge challenge, and we don't know all
the answers yet. While we have a pretty good idea how we want to do
this, we're aiming at a final decision by December.
We've been very open with the level of detail we're confident of at this
point, and it has been well documented:
-- The overall EAF will consist of about 10 AEFs. These units will be
on call or deployed up to 90 days at a time roughly every 15 months. Two
AEFs will be on call at all times. Studies of Air Force deployments
over the past five years indicate these forces should be sufficient to
respond to any international crises that occur while they are on call.
-- We plan to create about 5,000 positions to support deployed forces
and home bases by switching authorizations from specialties less likely
to deploy. The new positions will be spread across Air Force
installations, using small manpower boosts to ease the tempo for highly
stressed support forces.
-- We'll have the concept up and running by Jan. 1, 2000.
The timing of our announcement may not be inherently obvious. We
intentionally decided to put out the word before every detail was final.
Traditionally, the Air Force has waited until initiatives such as this
had been approved at all levels prior to announcing the plans. In my
opinion, this delay often created the perception among our people that
Air Force leaders were either unaware of the troops' concerns or, even
worse, were aware but were doing nothing to improve the situation.
While this perception was incorrect, I'm committed to ensuring it never
occurs while I'm chief. Under my watch, I have and will continue to
share with our people -- through their chain of command -- what we
intend to do to address their concerns and will provide progress reports
as we move forward. The final outcome of a particular initiative may
evolve a bit from its initial direction, but that's not reason enough to
withhold information from our folks as we head toward a solution.
Support for the concept has been reflected in articles penned by
editorial writers and columnists in several newspapers. An editorial in
the Christian Science Monitor commended the Air Force for its wise
decision to become more agile in the face of a security environment no
longer focused on the traditional standoff between superpowers.
Likewise, the Air Force Times commented that the EAF concept holds the
promise of allowing the Air Force to adapt to its changing mission now
that the Cold War is well behind us. The Air Force Times concluded that
"the expeditionary forces are a big step forward in preparing the Air
Force for its future."
My own sense is that Air Force people at all levels consider this a
positive step forward. Feedback from around the Air Force is that our
airmen are genuinely excited and optimistic about the EAF.
We have the world's greatest Air Force, and superb people who do all we
ask them to do. The EAF concept will allow us to continue to provide
exceptional aerospace forces to accomplish our global mission and to
better care for our folks as we do so. I'm convinced this is the right
approach for today's complex security environment, and I firmly believe
our Air Force, members of the other services, and our nation will see
the benefits of the EAF as we continue to develop and launch it over the
next 16 months.
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