'I'll just say that we were a little bit rusty at it,' Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in an interview, as she apologized for problems in the Air Force's force management efforts. (Cliff Owen/The Associated Press)
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Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on Friday apologized for bumps in the service’s force management process, and pledged to make the process move more smoothly.
“We have not done this level of downsizing and exercised some of these voluntary and involuntary authorities for quite some number of years, so I’ll just say that we were a little bit rusty at it as an Air Force,” James said in an interview with Defense News TV host Vago Muradian. “I’m committed to making this better, more speedy going forward. If we make mistakes, we’re going to correct them quickly, and there were some mistakes made, but we’ve tried to correct them.”
James said that as she has traveled around the Air Force over her first 120 days as secretary, she’s found the force cuts are “the number one issue on the minds of our airmen.”
“I can look them in the eye, and I have apologized to them that the communications on this has not been more smooth,” James said. “I think what our airmen are going to see is that this will speed up, that we will get them answers more quickly.”
The Air Force in December began rolling out 18 voluntary and involuntary force management programs as part of an effort to reduce its ranks by 25,000 airmen over the next five years.
But the effort has had some hiccups, as James acknowledged.
On March 4, the Air Force put its voluntary separation and early retirement programs on “pause” while it reviewed the programs, and it did not issue a statement on the pause for more than a week. Some airmen were confused and concerned by the pause, which ended after less than two weeks.
And in early April, the Air Force sent emails to fewer than 20 airmen revoking their Temporary Early Retirement Authority approvals. Those airmen were told their early retirements had mistakenly been approved. However, after an uproar online, the Air Force changed course and said those airmen’s early retirements would be honored.
James said that the force management effort is needed to pare down overmanned parts of the Air Force.
“As we get to be a smaller Air Force, it is coming down in numbers, but we also have to shape the force,” James said. “At the moment, we have too many of certain types of people and too few in others, so we need to get in sync so we have the right shape of an Air Force going forward, and we are trying to do as much as possible through voluntary measures before we use involuntary measures.”
James’ interview with Muradian will air Sunday at 11 a.m. on ABC channel 7 in the Washington area, and also on the Armed Forces Network and the Pentagon channel. It will be available to watch online after it airs Sunday on Defense News’ website.