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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    PARADISE (San Diego)

    Trump Weighs Cuts to Coast Guard, T.S.A. and FEMA to Bolster Border Plan

    Trump Weighs Cuts to Coast Guard, T.S.A. and FEMA to Bolster Border Plan



    A Coast Guard boat patrolled the Intracoastal Waterway near Mar-a-Lago Resort where President Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month. CreditJoe Raedle/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering deep cuts in the budgets of the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as it looks for money to ratchet up security along the southern border, according to a person familiar with the administration’s draft budget request.

    The goal is to shift about $5 billion toward hiring scores of additional agents for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as toward infrastructure to support a crackdown on illegal immigration at the border. A significant portion of the money would go toward erecting a wall along the border with Mexico, one of President Trump’s signature campaign promises.

    To fund those efforts, though, the plan would seek significant reductions in other areas, including a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard’s $9.1 billion budget and 11 percent cuts to both the T.S.A. and FEMA. The three agencies have played high-profile roles in the Department of Homeland Security’s post-Sept. 11 security architecture.

    All told, the plan would increase the department’s budget by 6.4 percent, to $43.8 billion, for the 2018 fiscal year, also using savings from other executive branch departments to fund it.

    News of the proposal, which was first reported by Politico on Tuesday, has befuddled longtime veterans of the Department of Homeland Security. Lawmakers in both parties indicated they would scrutinize, and perhaps even oppose, a slew of potential cuts they argued would not only expose new weaknesses but also undermine Mr. Trump’s own strongly stated goals of curtailing terrorism, narcotics and illegal immigration.

    “It’s a little bit like putting an extra lock on the front door and none on the back door,” said Michael Chertoff, who led the Homeland Security Department for four years. “You are not really protecting the house.”

    Reports of the proposal were confirmed to The New York Times by an official who had seen the documents and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closely guarded budgeting process. Mr. Trump is expected to present the budget this month, although it already is viewed as a largely aspirational proposal created by the Office of Management and Budget of the White House and individual departments to set priorities for Congress.

    A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department said he could not comment on the deliberations, and John Czwartacki, a spokesman for the budget office, said it was “premature” to discuss any proposals before an official budget blueprint was released.

    “The president and his cabinet are working collaboratively as we speak to create a budget that keeps the president’s promises to secure the country and prioritize taxpayer funds,” Mr. Czwartacki said.

    Still, reports of the cuts prompted considerable pushback on Capitol Hill, where several of the lawmakers who will eventually vote on appropriating money to the department expressed doubts that the proposal would serve Mr. Trump’s stated goals.

    Of chief concern were the potential cuts to the Coast Guard, the nation’s primary domestic maritime security force, which lawmakers and experts said had already been stretched thin by the wars on drugs, illegal immigration and terrorism.

    “Given the vital installations they guard and how many drugs and contraband they intercept along our maritime borders, cutting the Coast Guard to pay for a vacuous and expensive vanity project like a border wall would be dangerous and irrational,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said in a statement on Wednesday.

    Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation, was even more acerbic, calling the proposal “an insult” that would put the nation’s security at risk.

    The proposal also appears to have drawn the ire of Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, who leads the appropriations committee through which any budget must eventually pass. It was Mr. Cochran who in 2015 successfully pushed to build an additional $600 million clipper ship for the Coast Guard at Ingalls Shipbuilding in his home state — an order the budget plan now recommends be canceled.

    The proposal would seek other savings to the Coast Guard by cutting the use of Maritime Security Response Teams, patrol and first responder teams with advanced counterterrorism training, and delaying other new purchases.

    “Chairman Cochran appreciates the Coast Guard’s important role in protecting U.S. national security interests,” Mr. Cochran’s spokesman, Chris Gallegos, said on Wednesday.

    “Any proposals to reduce support for the Coast Guard will receive careful scrutiny in Congress.”

    In addition to monitoring the United States’ waterways for foreign and domestic threats, the Coast Guard plays a significant role in combating problems Mr. Trump wants to address. In the 2016 fiscal year alone, it intercepted more than 6,000 undocumented immigrants, and 200 metric tons of cocaine and 52,000 pounds of marijuana worth almost $6 billion, according to its spokeswoman, Lt. Amy Midgett.

    Should law enforcement officials clamp down on the land crossings into the United States, experts said, the maritime interdiction role would most likely only increase, putting additional pressure on the Coast Guard.

    “Where do you think drug smugglers and illegal immigrants will go next if you make the land border more impervious?” said David Heyman, who was assistant Homeland Security secretary for policy from 2009 to 2014. “It’s obvious they would next try to sneak in by sea or by air, which is precisely what the administration is trying to cut.”

    The proposed cuts at the T.S.A., the agency tasked with protecting air travel in the United States, and FEMA, which is best known for providing disaster relief, are relatively smaller, but they have likewise raised concerns about opening up new vulnerabilities to the nation’s airports, transit hubs and cities.

    Within the T.S.A., the proposal calls for the elimination of a handful of programs that have played a critical role in airport security and counterterrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They include a program that trains pilots to respond to an attempted armed takeover of the cockpit; a grant program that supports local law enforcement patrols at airports; and another, the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response program, that sends both undercover and highly visible officers to conduct security sweeps in high-risk airports and train stations.

    At FEMA, potential cuts would target for reduction an array of grants to state and local governments that have helped fund the development of emergency preparedness and response plans for natural disasters and terrorism-related events.

    The proposed savings would allow the Homeland Security Department to take significant steps toward addressing Mr. Trump’s priorities along the border between the United States and Mexico. The plan would free up funds to begin paying for the border wall, to construct detention facilities, and to hire an additional 500 Border Patrol agents and 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who will be responsible for border security and the deportation of immigrants already in the country illegally.

    Mr. Chertoff said that considering the department’s overall imperatives, it made little sense to so strengthen one portion of the budget at the expense of another, critical area.

    “If you are going to look at the mission of D.H.S., in which priority No. 1 is security, you have to take an approach to the budget that balances all the elements of security,” he said.


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  2. #2
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    PARADISE (San Diego)
    US military budget cuts stretching 'Screaming Eagles' to the limit

    By Jennifer Griffin, Lucas Tomlinson
    Published March 09, 2017

    EXCLUSIVE: One month into the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military conducted the longest combat air assault in history, with roughly 4,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division going deep into enemy territory at night in Mosul. Three years later, the division would carry out its last brigade-size air assault in combat during Operation Swarmer, also in Iraq.

    Today, many are questioning whether operations of that magnitude could be conducted after budget cuts have stripped the nation’s premier air assault division of its helicopters.

    Fox News traveled to Kentucky’s Fort Campbell, home to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, for exclusive interviews and to see first-hand how cuts have hurt military readiness. Officials described how the storied division is painfully overstretched.

    “We used to have two aviation brigades here, over 200 aircraft, and now we are down to just one aviation brigade and slightly over 100 aircraft,” said Col. Craig Alia, commander of the division’s combat aviation brigade and a veteran of three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Asked if he could quickly deploy and conduct a brigade-sized air assault similar to the ones in Iraq, Alia admitted, “We could not. We don’t have the crews to do it.”

    When people think of the 101, the iconic photo of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower greeting the Screaming Eagles before they jumped into Normandy ahead of the D-Day landings, or the hit HBO series “Band of Brothers,” might come to mind. The 101’s military insignia is one of most recognized in the world.

    But the division recently lost support when the Army disbanded the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade -- which had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan five times since 2002 -- a victim of congressionally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration, cutting the division’s helicopters roughly in half.

    Alia said, Army-wide, the service is short 700 pilots, roughly the same deficit as the Air Force. Known on the radio by his call sign, “Destiny 6,” Alia said the demands on their unit have not reduced, either. “So what you have is an inexperienced maintenance group that has to support a high tempo of flight hours, and it has a wear and tear on the force.”

    Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, commanding general of the 101st Airborne, said, “When you … reduce the amount of brigades that you have to deploy, yet the demand on those [brigades] goes up, you are going to have to deploy those more often. That induces stress.”


    President Trump has pledged to rebuild military units like the 101 and recently announced a $54 billion increase in defense spending. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including from his own party, say Trump’s plans don’t go far enough to repair the damage.

    Many officers in the division say the problems in the aviation brigade were compounded by President Barack Obama imposing strict limits on the number of U.S. forces who could deploy to Afghanistan. To meet the troop “caps,” the Army was forced to leave helicopter mechanics at home, substituting civilian contractors to the tune of more than $100 million.

    As a result, 1,000 Screaming Eagle mechanics were forced to stay home on its last deployment to Afghanistan, losing nearly a year of training in the process. Other aviation units also were forced to leave their soldiers behind, such as the aviation brigade from the 1st Infantry Division based at Fort Riley in Kansas.

    “So this has a direct impact on Army readiness and it also costs us more money,” the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said in congressional testimony last month. He said there is currently a 2:1 ratio of contractors to soldiers in Afghanistan.

    Back at Fort Campbell, while Apache gunships deployed to combat, their aircraft maintainers were stuck at home. As a result, skills atrophied, leading to frustration and morale problems in the unit -- soldiers anxious to test themselves in a war zone, according to their leaders.

    “Our maintainers left back here did not have a fleet of aircraft to work on,” said Lt. Col. Kenric Smith, the 101’s aviation support commander.

    All told, the division’s mechanics lost 18 months of experience, said Smith. Adding to the readiness challenge, some of the most experienced Apache mechanics left for other jobs in the Army, he added.

    Today, the division has an abundance of junior soldiers without the experience of fixing aircraft in a combat zone.

    Apache maintenance at Fort Campbell that used to take 30 days now takes “twice as long,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Hodgson, an Apache pilot in the division’s “Expect No Mercy” task force who deployed to Afghanistan over a year ago, after two deployments to Iraq.

    The Apache is the Army’s premier attack helicopter, capable of firing laser-guided Hellfire missiles, 2.75-inch unguided rockets, and a 30-mm. chain gun.

    “The crews we have here are becoming fatigued,” said Hodgson. “[But] they will do whatever they can to accomplish the mission.”

    As if things weren’t challenging enough for 101’s aviation brigade, Alia says he is about to lose critical experience in the cockpit.

    “So what I am looking at over the next six months is a 50,000-hour loss of flight experience,” when veteran pilots leave and 53 new pilots show up out of flight school, he said. The lone bright spot he says is the net increase of two pilots over current levels in the coming months, albeit pilots without much experience.

    It’s not only 101’s aviation brigade showing signs of wear and tear.

    World War II-era buildings dot the 170,000-acre Army post where the maintenance is done in old sheds with extensive water damage and dry rot.

    “It really is held together with buckles and posts, but we continue to use it because it’s the only facility we have,” Col. Rob Salome, Fort Campbell’s garrison commander, told Fox News.

    Not everyone agrees that the U.S. military is suffering from a readiness crisis.

    Robert Hale, a former DoD comptroller who served in the Obama administration, warned the military is exaggerating the readiness problem.

    “This is a time when the services, if you will, want to put their worst foot forward and make clear all the problems that are there," Hale said in Washington last month. "So, I think we need to be a little skeptical."

    Not so, says another former comptroller from the George W. Bush administration, Tina Jonas.

    "I have no reasons to doubt their concerns," she said of the services.

    The Army’s second-highest-ranking officer raised alarm when he testified on Capitol Hill last month and said only three of the Army’s 58 brigade combat teams could immediately deploy due to budget cuts.

    “When we say fight tonight, that means that unit needs no additional people, no additional training, and no additional equipment. And three is where we're at today,” said Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army’s vice chief of staff.

    Less than two years ago, the Army announced it was cutting 40,000 soldiers. Since the election, it now says it wants 30,000 more.

    Trump wants to spend $603 billion on defense, 3 percent higher than Obama's defense budget. The chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services committees have called for spending $640 billion to address readiness problems across the services.

    "While we cannot repair all of the damage done … in a single year, we can and should do more than this level of funding will allow," House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said in a statement.


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  3. #3
    Senior Member Judy's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    No, no cuts to Coast Guard, just use them more widely to curb illegal immigration. Give them more and broader assignments.

    No, no cuts to federal FEMA unless it's the silly stuff they do and they do do some silly stuff, cuts to some states at this point makes some sense. States should be able to afford their own preparedness roles to a greater extent. Coastal states have enormous advantage economically over inland states due to the ocean and beach tourism, more international visitors due to their famous cities on or near the oceans, so they should use their added economic advantage to finance their state emergency preparedness roles, perhaps not all, but more of it.

    TSA, well, personally I think the airlines should do far more of this. They're the ones making the money, they finance the airports, this is their "turf", they have no problem throwing a big mouth off a plane, so I think they're skilled and ready to check bags and look out for ne'er do wells such as terrorists. They could or should pay for the majority of TSA staff and roll it into their ticket prices. People who aren't flying like most taxpayers shouldn't be paying for it every hour of every day of every month of every year. Most people pay "taxes and fees" on their cell phones that goes to the government to finance telecommunications industry so pay fees on airline tickets to pay for protection from terrorism.
    A Nation Without Borders Is Not A Nation - Ronald Reagan
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  4. #4
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    PARADISE (San Diego)
    With aging jets and a shortage of pilots, the Air Force weighs buying throwback ‘light-attack’ planes
    By Dan Lamothe February 28

    The Air Force is considering propeller-driven planes like this one in its battle against the Islamic State

    Play Video1:1

    The U.S. Air Force is facing a potentially protracted air war against the Islamic State. Aging fighter jets and a shrinking pilot corps is forcing the Air Force to look at using “light-attack” propeller planes. (Dan Lamothe, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

    The U.S. Air Force, faced with a potentially protracted war against the Islamic State, aging fighter jets and a shrinking force of pilots, is examining the adoption of a new fleet of “light-attack” planes that are both a throwback to earlier U.S. operations and a current staple of militaries in South America and the Middle East.

    The aircraft would be able to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State and other militants for less money than the F-16 Fighting Falcon or the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Options available could include Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano propeller plane, which the United States has delivered to Afghanistan and other allies, and Beechcraft’s AT-6, a version of which the U.S. military already uses in pilot training.

    [The Air Force fighter pilot shortage is already a crisis — and it could soon get worse]

    Air Force generals have discussed the proposal several times in recent weeks, saying that the planes could supplement existing aircraft, including drones, in regions where there is no enemy capable of shooting down U.S. planes. Gen. David L. Goldfein, the service’s top officer, said the proposal is part of an ongoing dialogue that dates back years and could soon include an experiment in which private companies demonstrate what the planes can do.

    “I’m not interested in something that requires a lot of research and development here,” Goldfein said during a recent appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I’m looking for something that I can get at right now, commercial, off the shelf, low-cost, that can operate in an uncontested environment, that can deliver the capabilities that we need, that can also be something that perhaps our allies and partners that are in this fight with us” use.

    Goldfein added: “If you assume this fight will be going on for a little bit of time, there is room and time for us to get after this.”

    Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein addresses commanders at the Eaker Center for Professional Development on Feb. 2. (Melanie Rodgers Cox/Air Force)

    The experiment will follow related efforts in Iraq and the United States. In the most recent, U.S. Central Command deployed two Vietnam-era, twin-engine OV-10G Broncos on loan from NASA to Iraq in 2015, flying them in missions against the Islamic State to assess how light-attack planes might help in the air war.

    The experiment was described by Navy Capt. Andy Walton in an article last year in Proceedings Magazine, a publication of the U.S. Naval Institute. He detailed one mission over Iraq in an OV-10G in which he and a colleague observed militants for hours as they traveled down the Tigris River in canoes, and then fired on them with laser-guided rockets.

    The use of the planes was the latest step in a program called Combat Dragon II, which dates back nearly a decade and involves Special Operations Command. Goldfein cited it recently, noting that some testing was carried out when he was the commander of Air Forces Central Command from August 2011 to July 2013. One of his bosses at the time was Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, now defense secretary, who supported the program as chief of U.S. Central Command.

    The Air Force published a paper in 2008 that identified the need for a plane that could carry out both attacks and aerial observation. It called the plane “OA-X” and said continued reliance on other aircraft, ranging from the B-1 bomber to the F-16, at “rates that are much higher than planned and programmed” would wear them out.

    An OV-10 owned by NASA, bottom, flies in formation. (NASA)

    The Air Force, the paper said, “faces a critical gap in its ability to conduct air support for extended periods in the Long War,” a reference to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations worldwide. It recommended that the aircraft should have an armored protection for the crew and engine, missile warnings and countermeasures, among other features.

    Air Force officials estimate that the cost of flying a propeller plane like the A-29 or AT-6 would be a few thousand dollars per hour. In comparison, it costs about $18,000 per hour to fly the A-10 attack jet. Other hourly costs are: $19,000 for the F-16; $24,000 for the F-15E; $42,000 for the F-35A; $44,000 for the AC-130J; $62,000 for the F-22A; $63,000 for the B-52; $77,000 for the B-1B; and $120,000 for the B-2, according to service statistics.

    The light-attack effort has new momentum in part because one of its chief critics in Congress, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has shifted his opinion on the U.S. military experimenting with the aircraft. In 2011, he criticized research the Navy wanted to do for Combat Dragon as unnecessary because of the existence of the A-10, the slow-moving jet that has long carried out close-air support for U.S. troops in combat. At the time, light-attack planes were seen as a potential replacement for at least some A-10s, which McCain has long championed.

    However, the service, which once said it would retire all 283 snub-nose “Warthogs” to save an estimated $4.2 billion, now plans to keep them because of their utility in the fight against the Islamic State. McCain said in a recent report titled “Restoring American Power” that the Air Force should not only keep its A-10s but also buy 300 “low-cost, light-attack fighters that would require minimal work to develop.” The planes could carry out counterterrorism operations, perform close-air support and help to season pilots as the Air Force addresses its pilot shortfall, the report said.

    The shortfall has become an increasing problem as pilots leave the military at a rate that Goldfein and then-Air Force Secretary Deborah James declared a crisis last summer.

    Data released to The Washington Post showed there were about 723 fighter pilot vacancies in the service among 3,495 jobs, leaving 21 percent unfilled.

    The Air Force has attributed the shortage to recruiting by the commercial airline industry; frequent deployments keeping pilots away from their families; and a reduction in stateside training amid budget constraints. It says it sees the new light-attack plane as an inexpensive way to get entry-level military pilots into planes as quickly as possible.

    “When they end their commitment at the end of 10 years, we’re losing a lot of them to the airlines,” said an Air Force official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel matter. “Just to keep up … you have to match that exit every year in the production and seasoning of pilots. You’ve got to have cockpits for those pilots to go to to get that experience and seasoning after you do initial training.”

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  5. #5
    Senior Member Judy's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    I would imagine you're losing pilots because of money, they need a pay raise to keep the ones you have, deter those thinking about leaving and to draw new ones into the Air Force.
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  6. #6
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    PARADISE (San Diego)
    "Pilots aren’t leaving the Air Force because of money (They already get a $25,000 bonus every year.) and they’re not leaving the Air Force because of operational tempo per se. Pilots are choosing to leave the Air Force because they don’t feel that the operational tempo both on the road and at home is justified."

    Is the Air Force Waving the White Flag on Pilot Retention?

    By John Q. Public| October 31st, 2015

    We’ve been reporting here over the past several months about the crisis of Air Force pilot retention. Fighter pilots are bailing out of the Air Force at an alarming rate. The service can’t stabilize its Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) community without resorting to abusive personnel practices that drive airmen out. Air Staff generals not long ago dissolved commander prerogatives allowing protection of their key pilots from deployment rotations. Most recently, a provision authorized under the “Stop Loss” section of the US Code was was surreptitiously invoked to prevent officers from retiring under some circumstances — requiring that they first pull a six- or twelve-month hitch in the desert as a parting gift.

    Meanwhile, the economy is rebounding. Separation programs offered last year were popular among pilots, and the service inexplicably allowed hundreds to leave while involuntarily jettisoning others. “Take rates” for pilot bonus programs continue to tumble, with nearly
    62% of pilots who were eligible to leave the service in FY15 choosing to depart. This drove inventory down by a total of 345 pilots.

    All signs point to a crisis of pilot manning that could preclude the Air Force from fulfilling its future mission. Accordingly, the service should be in an all-out emergency push to reverse the trend. Apparently, pretty much the opposite is true.

    Against this backdrop, Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF) Gen. Mark Welsh delivered remarks recently at Sheppard Air Force Base in a small group interaction that included roughly a dozen pilots.

    During his scheduled visit, Welsh discussed the pilot retention problem in stark terms, telling those in attendance that “we [the Air Force] can’t compete.” He reportedly made it clear that he didn’t think the Air Force could stay apace with airline competitors in terms of pay, operational tempo, or lifestyle stability.

    “We can’t compete,” Gen. Mark Welsh reportedly told a group of officers during a recent meeting, referring to the problem of pilot retention. (Photo: Air Force).

    CSAF reportedly did assure the crowd that he’s trying to raise the pilot bonus to $35,000 per year (from its current level of $25,000) although his public affairs staff declined to confirm this.

    More controversially, he made it clear to the group that the Air Force can’t compete and accordingly, it won’t try. He reportedly told the pilots “if you leave, someone else will step in.”

    This is a well-worn Air Force locution. A way of reminding everyone that no one is indispensable. In this case, it leaves Welsh sounding as though he’s content to let dissatisfied pilots leave if the only alternative is genuinely working to address their concerns. It also makes it seem as though he misapprehends the problem. More on that in a moment.

    CSAF also reportedly told the group of about 30 officers that internal Air Force studies show “good pilots” are in fact not the problem. He claimed that those who win “awards that are valued within the pilot community” are generally choosing to stay. This claim is short on detail, yet manages to raise a number of questions about what these purported studies really show, who performed them and using what methodology, who participated in them, and how broad and searching they were. Welsh’s Staff wouldn’t respond to questions about such internal surveys or even confirm their existence.

    Some in attendance appreciated CSAF’s candor. He was essentially telling the truth, admitting he didn’t feel sufficiently empowered under the circumstances to devote the resources necessary to address what he saw as the major concerns of pilots as they weigh whether to stay in service or leave.

    But at the same time, his remarks indicated to many a fundamental misapprehension of the problem. His remarks seem to hold that pilot retention is a straightforward matter of paying pilots enough and reducing their tempo enough to make Air Force life more attractive than the airlines.

    But it’s a little more complicated than that.
    Pilots aren’t leaving the Air Force because of money and they’re not leaving the Air Force because of operational tempo per se. Pilots are choosing to leave the Air Force because they don’t feel that the operational tempo both on the road and at home is justified.

    This deserves a bit of elaboration.

    Too many of the deployments pilots are being tasked to undertake have nothing to do with flying aircraft and often little more than a tenuous connection to the service mission.

    These often short-notice sojourns serve as additional interruptions of already piecemeal flying careers broken up by staff and school obligations and by the churn of personnel policies that rotate pilots to weapon systems with acute manning shortages stemming from the absence of a personnel strategy. The MC-12 and RPA communities are examples of this latter phenomenon.

    But life at home is the more nagging complaint. Pilots don’t feel they’re being given the resources — chiefly the time and ability to focus on operations — that they need to be excellent at what they do. They don’t believe that the training and aviator development they’re able to effectuate under the current circumstances affirm a commitment to winning wars through the air. The flying mission has been taken for granted, with the chain of command serially celebrating nonsense at the expense of the mission.

    No one will stay in an organization that they believe is on a collision course with mediocrity. The first ones to leave such an organization will be the best performers — those who have internalized the core value of “Excellence in All We Do.”

    Should Gen. Welsh re-conceptualize the retention problem on more accurate terms, he might see value in re-tooling the service’s approach. Solving this problem doesn’t require competing with the airlines. It requires fixing Air Force squadrons — making them once again the well-functioning, healthy, vital organizations they must be for operational excellence to thrive. This means ending the practice of letting staffs and functional managers raid squadron rosters, taking them below minimum levels. It also means giving squadron commanders the authority to shield units from tasks that erode mission focus.

    But most of all, it means conducting a top-down, service-wide manpower review to lead the service back to sustainability.

    For a decade, the Air Force has solved acute manning shortages in some communities by robbing personnel from others. All along the way, it has added much more mission activity than it has subtracted, and has drawn down manpower over the same period. The net effect is a gradual erosion of expertise that is now accelerating as mid-career experts jump ship. CSAF needs to put an end to this pattern.

    The service is not sustainable, pilots know it, and if Welsh isn’t going to fix it, they’re not going to hang around for the inevitable collapse.

    What airmen in flying squadrons want is for the Air Force to stop taking advice from personnel officials and start thinking operationally again. CSAF should order his staff to re-establish an inviolate manpower standard for operational units and to establish business rules that tightly constrain derogations from that standard. This might mean adding more airmen to the overall roster, and it will certainly mean CSAF will have to lead a decision process about what the Air Force must stop doing in order to re-achieve sustainability.
    It will also certainly mean sending an objective auditor downrange to perform a manning study. The Air Force long ago departed from reality as to which deployed billets are actually necessary and which exist simply as feathers in the nests of transitory bureaucrats who’ve engaged in empire building for its own sake. There is tremendous waste in the deployment machine, and feeding that machine is a huge drain on squadrons across the Air Force.

    But even if he can’t go as far as to take a more precise and more effective approach, the one thing CSAF cannot do is raise the white flag. To do so is an invitation to disaster.

    Telling people you’re not going to fight to keep them is another way of saying you don’t value them. Telling them someone will step into their shoes betrays a view that you see them as interchangeable parts rather than individually valuable airmen. One whiff of this kind of official apathy is capable of spooking the herd as never before. They’ll trample one another in their rush for the exits.

    The Air Force has a duty to the taxpayer and to national defense to develop and retain the best aviation talent possible. Not trying every possible measure to retain its core talent does a disservice to those who end up involuntarily retained as result of manning shortages. It does a disservice to those trapped in an organization tending toward mediocrity precisely because its inability to keep enough people in key jobs results in spreading those who remain too thin. It ultimately does a disservice to national defense by insidiously elevating the risk of conducting airpower.

    One source who attended the meeting told me CSAF’s remarks sounded defeatist and irresponsible.
    The concern is not invalid. It’s true in any organization that when executives no longer believe they can keep their best people, the realization should instigate an energetic response, catalyzing adjustment of the basic equation in order to make work attractive again. When leaders stop trying to even find out why the best are leaving, they surrender to endemic mediocrity and eventual organizational failure. Allowing this to happen in a federal agency with the Air Force’s responsibilities is unacceptable.

    The Air Force has advantages over civilian life. The flying done by airmen in the Air Force is more interesting, more adventurous, and carries the chance to make a bigger difference in the world. This is something General Welsh understands and even mentioned while at Sheppard.

    But if his management team can’t or won’t capitalize on these advantages make them broadly and dependably cognizable for pilots, then the implications for the Air Force are disastrous. This isn’t one of those issues the service can “care a little bit” about. It should be setting off alarm bells and the kitchen sinks of policy should be getting heaved forcefully in its direction. Whether that’s not happening because the service is so resource strapped as to be powerless, whether it’s because it doesn’t want to empower or entitle pilots by working to keep them, or whether it’s just plain ineptitude … isn’t clear. But the impact is clear, and its growth into a monster capable of pulling down the whole service is painfully predictable.

    Many in the Air Force feel as though it is careening toward ruin. They point to the degradation of operational excellence as a key indicator that in the ongoing moral hollowing of the institution, not even operational excellence is sacred. Squadrons continue to suffer under the weight of flavor-of-the-month distractions, massive regulatory requirements, self-inflicted clownery, toxic leadership, and unfunded mandates. They confront their myriad and burgeoning support requirements not via dedicated support staffs, but through self-help … tasking pilots to administratively support their operations. This is the heart of the pilot retention problem. If CSAF can’t or won’t address this or doesn’t grasp its magnitude, the service is headed for big trouble.

    There’s a mountain in the windscreen and it’s getting bigger by the day. This is a moment to raise a red flag rather than wave a white one.


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