Force management programs -- threat or opportunity?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. William Maher
  • 71st Student Squadron commander
I started as a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1991, just as the Gulf War was wrapping up. The Air Force was about to enter a Reduction in Force.

As I began my career of Air Force service I saw significant reduction to our force structure. Cadets that were nearly guaranteed a pilot training slot were told that 75 percent of them would have to wait to fly. One thousand of us came to serve as pilots in the class of 1995. By the time we graduated, there were 275 pilot training slots.

About 20 years earlier, the Air Force had faced a similar reduction coming out of Vietnam. And now, about 20 years later, again we face the requirement to reduce our force to stay within the budget constraints our great country is able to support.

The numbers are starting to roll out on targeted year groups and Air Force specialty codes. I was able to sit down one-on-one with nearly all my vulnerable members last week. It was sobering.

The targeted cuts were as high as 85 percent to some in my squadron. Even the lower percentages closer to 20 percent are alarming. Look around you. One in five may be asked to seek employment outside of active duty service in order to maintain our nation's airpower capabilities in the future.

We don't know how headquarters will cut across these year groups and specialties. Will they take evenly from across the training, mobility and combat Air Force bases? Or will they cut more heavily out of Air Education and Training Command in order to continue to meet war fighting obligations right now? There is much uncertainty.

Although the decisions are yet to be made, our Airmen are feeling the impact. Those that thought they would serve a 20-year career or longer are now faced with the likelihood they will need to find other employment before the end of the year.

Those that thought they had two to five years to decide on continued military service are suddenly faced with an opportunity to move on to their next phase of life. These are stressful times both for the voluntary and involuntary programs.

Preparing for the future is a challenge. Applications need to be drafted and tailored for specific employers. A few last courses are required for that civilian degree that might open up future employment. The need to get that Federal Aviation Administration rating accomplished seems more critical.

All this is happening while we still have an obligation to get the mission accomplished here at Vance AFB -- develop Airmen, deliver world-class pilots and deploy combat-ready warriors.

As a commander, I promise to do my best to take care of you and lead you through these challenging times. That means I know the programs that are an opportunity or a threat and will help you work through these major life decisions. I know my fellow commanders are committed to the same standard.

If you need a more confidential ear to bounce your ideas around, call the chaplains, 213-7211, or the Vance Military Family Life Consultant, 747-8056. These people care about you and are great problem solving resources. Sometimes just setting aside an hour to talk through the pros and cons of a decision with an expert listener reveals what is the best option to aim for as we make these life impacting decisions.

Get enrolled in the next Transition Assistance Program by calling the Airman & Family Readiness Center, 213-6330. Find out what is available to you outside the Air Force.

If the stress seems overwhelming, let your supervisor know or head on over to the Medical Group. Mental health professionals and family advocacy counselors can aid both you and your family in dealing with the stress, shock, depression and grief associated with an unexpected career change. Give them a call at 213-7419.

As Wingmen, we need to watch out for both ourselves and each other. If your mind is not in the game to fly or control or safely accomplish your duties, don't put your Wingman at risk.

If you notice something not right with your Wingman, take them aside and check on them. Remember, our Group and Wing leadership have said time and again that we will do our best to get the mission done of delivering world class pilots -- but the most important aspect of the training mission here at Vance AFB is that each of us makes it home at the end of every day.

The stress of these force management programs will test us in that goal. It is up to each of us to take care of the mission, take care of ourselves and look out for each other every day.

Consider the training and experience you will take with you to the job market if you end up in a different career than you anticipated at the start of 2014.

I encourage each of you facing separation, voluntarily or involuntarily, to see these circumstances as an opportunity rather than a threat. The Air Force is asking thousands of great Americans to leave the service now in order to ensure our ability to deliver potent, credible airpower in the future. Few, if any, "deserve" to be cut from our force.

Change is a challenge. Change is stressful. The loss of an Airman due to accident or suicide because of implementation of a force management program is an avoidable tragedy.