Change… accept it, embrace it, move on!

  • Published
  • By Col. Glen VanHerck
  • 71st Operations Group commander
It has often been said that the only constant in the U.S. Air Force is change. In my opinion, that saying has never been more relevant than right now. Today's Air Force, and Department of Defense for that matter, is changing at a pace almost beyond comprehension. 

In my nearly 22 years of service I have witnessed enormous change. The Air Force has gone from training to win a war against the former Soviet Union, a giant nation state, to fighting an ideology and individuals who live in caves in remote regions of the world. 

The Air Force has gone from a force of more than 600,000 troops to just over half of that number -- approximately 330,000. 

Typewriters gave way to computers, text messages and data-link operations. We have gone from 4,000 plus airplanes, most of which were fighters, to 2,500 airplanes, half of which will be remotely piloted by the year 2020. 

We have stealth, laser-guided weapons, satellite-guided weapons and directed-energy weapons. We've changed and we will continue to change. 

My intention is not to educate you on our past but to focus you on the future, a future that undoubtedly involves changes that most of us have not even dreamed about. 

Air Force culture must embrace change. If we do not adapt to our surroundings, I firmly believe that the world will pass us by and we will become irrelevant. As the environment and threat change, we must change to meet the challenges. 

That is exactly what the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force are doing, adapting our force structure, values and culture to meet a changing battle space. Certainly it can be painful, but it is necessary. As Confucius said, "only the wisest and stupidest of men never change." 

At the strategic level the major changes for today's Air Force are aimed at gaining back the confidence of our civilian leadership and our brothers and sisters in the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps. 

Our actions over the past several years have eroded the confidence of our civil leadership. Actions such as acquisition failures, persistent pushes for platforms and systems in conflict with civil guidance, and most recently, our failure in the nuclear realm clearly indicated the need for change. 

Additionally, growing discontent among our sister services with the appearance that the Air Force was not a team player in the joint arena has facilitated a new strategic vector from our leadership. 

By now you are probably asking how is this going to impact me. First and foremost, our new environment of compliance can be directly traced to some of our failures. This environment is painful, as the recent 71st Flying Training Wing Unit Compliance Inspection revealed, but this change is clearly needed. Embrace this new environment, get smart on the new guidance and procedures and move on. 

The appearance of not playing well in the joint arena and not supporting our sister services in current overseas operations has produced significant change for the Air Force. 

Deployment lengths and frequencies have increased. New missions have emerged for Airmen. Air Force troops are filling in where the other services are stretched thin. For example, the majority of Army convoy operations in Iraq has been and will continue to be executed by Air Force troops. 

The Air Force, in the eyes of our civil leadership and joint partners, resisted adapting to the irregular threat we face today and instead placed an increased emphasis on the procurement of platforms and systems that were not supporting current ongoing operations. 

One can argue that we need more F-22As and satellite systems, and argue this allegation until the cows come home. But the fact is our joint warriors needed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance -- not F-22As -- to fight the current fight. In response, the Air Force is placing great emphasis on gaining joint respect and supporting the needs of the supported services. 

This change has had major impacts on our force structure, assignment system, acquisition process and numerous other areas. To support the Army and its ever growing thirst for air support, the Air Force has agreed to up the number of air liaison officers supporting the Army from approximately 250 to 800, a significant change. 

To support the ever growing need for intelligence and reconnaissance, the Air Force is investing in remotely piloted vehicles with the goal of establishing a minimum of 50 combat air patrols to provide 24-hour surveillance and support. Again, a huge undertaking and shift in resources. 

Both of these initiatives will strain several career fields to include pilots and intelligence. In the long run, to continue down this path, the Air Force must either produce significantly more pilots and intelligence specialists, or change our paradigm, something that is extremely hard to do. 

In a resource-constrained environment, I am willing to wager that we will be forced to change our paradigm and create new career fields to train stand-alone air liaison officers and create a career path for remotely piloted vehicle operators, both much less expensive that producing greater numbers of pilots. 

Embrace it. It's a change that must be made to ensure we provide the necessary support to win the ongoing fight within current fiscal realities. 

In my opinion, the strategic change that will no doubt impact all military members at the tactical level in the very near future is the change to our fitness testing program. It's time to stop whining about the changes to the test, get smart and move on. 

With our force structure getting smaller, the number of one-deep shops growing and our expeditionary mission becoming the norm, it is imperative that each Airman be ready to hold up his or her end of the deal. 

For each Airman not capable of performing at an expected capability level, another Airman is required to fill that role. With limited resources, our Air Force can't afford to have Airmen performing below peek potential. Embrace this change and move on. The Air Force will be better off and each of us will personally benefit. 

In summary, shift is happening. We're shifting our force structure, acquisition strategies, mission emphasis and doctrine to fight a prolonged irregular battle in an expeditionary environment. But we are also maintaining the ability to execute a major theater war. These are significant challenges that require innovative solutions and changes considering today's fiscal realities. 

Accept it, embrace it, and move on! It's who we are and what we do and nobody does it better.