Airmen check the frequency on their radios in January during the Joint Terminal Air Controller Advanced Instructor Course at the Nevada Test and Training Range. Most airmen will start deploying next year under a new system that aims to keep them with their units. (Staff Sgt. William P. Coleman / Air Force)
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Beginning in October 2014, most airmen will start deploying under a new system that aims to keep them with their units and that follows six months of deployment with 12 months at home.
The new Air Expeditionary Force Next, or AEF Next, system was approved by Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh on April 29 and will be put into practice for most deployments beginning in fiscal 2015, said Col. Stephen Hart, chief of the Air Force’s war planning and policy division.
“Our goal is to see greater numbers of airmen deployed together, at the same time, to the same location,” Hart said. “Obviously we can’t make that absolute, but that’s the goal.”
The new system replaces so-called “tempo bands,” which determined dwell-deploy ratios based on an airman’s specialty. Under that system, dwell-deploy ratios varied wildly, from a 1:1 ratio — meaning some airmen spent just as much time deployed as they did at home — to a 1:5 ratio.
Also, airmen under the old system usually received their orders as individuals or small elements. That meant that when they deployed, they often served with other airmen and under commanding officers whom they didn’t know.
“A couple of years ago, we had a need to be all-in and to provide maximum capacity every single day,” Hart said. “But there was a problem in the way we were doing it, in that we were deploying almost down to the point of single airmen.”
Hart said the new system will have several benefits. First, he said, establishing a more stable deployment schedule will make it easier for bases to establish a battle rhythm and predict when units will be deployed.
And deploying airmen with their units will improve efficiency and morale by keeping them with airmen and commanders they are already familiar with, Hart said. Airmen will have already worked side-by-side with those they’re deployed with and will have established a rhythm for getting the job done, he said. And during the stresses of months-long deployments abroad, it helps to have people you know around to talk to, he said.
“It’s much better to deploy with your friends than it is to have to make new ones,” Hart said.
But not everybody will be able to take advantage of the new deployment system. Airmen in high-demand specialties will continue on a 1:1 ratio, meaning six months in the field followed by six months at home.
Hart said the Air Force had finished planning its fiscal 2014 deployments by the time AEF Next was approved, so fiscal 2015 is the earliest AEF Next could be applied.
The Air Force originally planned to reach initial operational capability for AEF Next by October 2012, but that goal slipped as the service tried to adjust the policy to satisfy all the different major commands.
But Hart said the Air Force began early planning for fiscal 2015 deployments as if AEF Next had been approved, which will allow the service to stay on schedule for a October 2014 rollout.