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Air Force may get even smaller if budget cuts continue, Cody says

Sep. 18, 2013 - 12:50PM   |  
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody expects the Air Force will announce 'pretty significant changes' to how enlisted airmen are evaluated and promoted next year to make sure that the best airmen have a distinct advantage as the force gets smaller.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody expects the Air Force will announce 'pretty significant changes' to how enlisted airmen are evaluated and promoted next year to make sure that the best airmen have a distinct advantage as the force gets smaller. (Airman 1st Class Stephanie Ashley/Air Force)
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Times are changing for enlisted airmen: The Air Force has already announced new restrictions on the tuition assistance program, and it has offered a second chance to airmen who fail the waist measurement part of the physical fitness test but pass the rest of it.

Next year, the service may announce major changes to the evaluation and promotion systems and promotion boards for master sergeants. The changes are meant to put a premium on performance as the Air Force gets smaller, said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody.

“Across our Air Force, all components of our Air Force — active, Guard, Reserve and civilian — we are going to be a smaller Air Force in the future,” Cody said in a Sept. 9 interview.

The Air Force’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014 calls for cutting about 1,860 active-duty airmen to meet the service’s congressionally authorized end strength of 327,600, but the proposal does not take into account the budget cuts known as sequestration, which could last 10 years. It is too early to say how many more airmen the Air Force may have to cut if sequestration continues, Cody said.

Congress is unlikely to pass a defense budget by Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal 2014, so lawmakers are working on a temporary spending measure called a continuing resolution.

“If we go into continuing resolution, it is likely that on the beginning of the year, we will then be sequestered again,” he said. “There are certainly people trying to work diligently to make that not happen, but we have to start to plan for that and are planning for that.

“It is likely we will do some additional force shaping, just as we have done in fiscal year 13, and those numbers [cuts]could be dramatically increased when you look in the out years and how we will get to the end strengths that we believe we will need to be at,” Cody said.

“The discussion we are having right now with the acting secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff is: How do we lay those reductions in? Do we take a larger number up front and then try to normalize this out earlier or do we in fact just try to smooth-flow this over the out years?”

Further spending cuts would complicate matters for the Air Force because fiscal constraints prevented the service from doing everything it needed to do this year, creating a ripple effect that is moving forward into next fiscal year, Cody said.

“[Fiscal] 14 will be as difficult, maybe more difficult, truly, and into fiscal year 15,” he said.

Faced with the need to get smaller, the Air Force will focus on retaining quality airmen, but it’s hard to determine who the service’s top performers are when nearly everyone gets a perfect 5 on his or her enlisted performance report. That’s why the Air Force has launched a review into EPRs and the promotion system.

In February, Cody told Air Force Times that he hoped the review could be completed in six months. Now he expects the results of the review to be announced in 2014.

“Certainly, when you talk about the enlisted evaluation system and promotions, it takes longer than six months to do that,” Cody said. “It is tied to so many things in our Air Force. If we don’t take the right amount of time to deliberately do this review and develop the new process, we will likely make some significant mistakes.”

He expects the Air Force will announce “pretty significant changes” to how enlisted airmen are evaluated and promoted to make sure that the best airmen have a distinct advantage over airmen whose performance is mediocre.

“First and foremost, we’re looking at a system that clearly shows that performance is the key factor for airmen,” Cody said. “If you are not a good performer in our Air Force, all the other stuff that we tend to look at becomes less relevant — and in some cases, irrelevant.”

That is why the Air Force is looking at holding promotion boards for master sergeants. The current promotion system does not adequately reward performance for technical sergeants looking to advance, Cody said previously.

But being a top performer does not mean running yourself into the ground. Cody expects airmen to work hard, but he continues to stress that airmen tell their supervisors when they’ve reached their limits to avoid burning out.

“That is a difficult conversation to have because, to be honest, it’s just not how airmen are made,” he said. “Airmen really like to do their jobs. Airmen really want to get the mission done. We just have to have the real conversation that says, ‘You know what, we’ve got as much done as is reasonable today; we’re going to need to work on this tomorrow no matter how much longer we work on it today; it’s time to go home; we’ll hit it again hard tomorrow.’ ”

Recently, the Air Force has announced other changes effective Oct. 1. Supervisors will now have to approve all requests for tuition assistance, and airmen who have been cited for poor performance cannot take classes until the action against them has been resolved. Also, airmen who fail the tape test will be measured using the Body Mass Index if they pass the pushup, situp and run portions of the PT test.

Amidst all the challenges facing airmen, it is important they realize they are doing well, Cody said.

“We are going to continue to shape our Air Force for the future,” he said. “We are going to continue to look to strengthen that team that we have, and there is absolutely no question on any given day we’re going to win the fight.”■

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