Gen. David Allvin became the Air Force's 23rd Chief of Staff Nov. 1. In his first message to the force, he emphasized that USAF's course had been well set by his three most recent predecessors who had already set the right plans in motion. Staff Sgt. Stuart Bright
Photo Caption & Credits

WORLD: Leadership

Nov. 30, 2023

Message From the Chief 

Course is Set, Allvin Tells Airmen: Now USAF Must Follow Through.

New Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin’s first message to Airmen praised his three most recent predecessors for modernizing the force, its strategies, and organization to the force, then challenged every Airman to help “follow through” to turn those changes and initiatives into airpower and capability. 

On his first official Monday as USAF’s 23rd Chief of Staff, Allvin spelled out his priorities Nov. 6, emphasizing the essential role the Air Force will play in future conflict. “The attributes of the changing character of war are ones well suited for our service,” he wrote. “Speed, tempo, range, agility, flexibility, precise lethality, and resilience have been the hallmarks of airpower since our inception. The future holds ambiguity, but our task is clear: We must now follow through.”

Allvin was Vice Chief for the past two years and had been acting as Chief since his predecessor, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., became JCS Chairman Oct. 1. A week later, the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel triggered a regional war. With Russia and Ukraine still locked in a brutal fight in Europe and a new Middle East conflict bubbling in the Middle East, military leaders are worried China or North Korea could try to take advantage of the moment while the U.S. is distracted in those other regions. 

The 2022 National Defense Strategy identifies China as the pacing threat due to its aggressive military buildup, the scale of its economy, and its great technical prowess, while noting the challenges posed by Russia, Iran, North Korea, and radical extremism.  But each of these threats has a connection to the region. Iran is the instigator behind Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, all of whom have launched attacks since Oct. 7, including a Nov. 9 shoot-down of a USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone by the Houthis. The Pentagon is grappling with the possibility that multiple conflicts could break out simultaneously in different parts of the globe. 

Allvin, a former test pilot with more than 4,600 flight hours in more than 30 aircraft—including 800 flight test hours and 100 combat hours—is familiar with those challenges, having held key roles in Europe, Afghanistan, and the Pentagon on both the Air Staff and Joint Staff. He helped write “America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future” in 2014 and the “Air Force Future Operating Concept” in 2015, documents that laid the groundwork for what was initially termed “multidomain operations” and later evolved to become combined joint all-domain command and control (CJADC2). 

As Vice Chief, Allvin was a member of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, and he now finds several of his former colleagues on that panel as fellow members of the Joint Chiefs. He also played a lead role in tackling recruiting and retention as the senior member of Brown’s Barriers to Service Cross-Functional Team, which worked to eliminate processes and rules that were keeping otherwise-qualified civilians from joining the force.

“We have formidable challenges ahead,” Allvin wrote. “Many of the solutions to these challenges are not a mystery” and the Air Force has been working to address those challenges “for some time.”

The answer is not a handful of new initiatives, but rather follow-through in delivering new capability. Repeating “follow through” seven times, he admonished Airmen to follow through on:

  •  “Airmen and their families expect and deserve changes worthy of their commitment and sacrifice, and suited to fulfill the oaths we take on service of this Nation.”
  •  Transforming “the products of our Operational Imperatives into actual meaningful operational capability. This requires thoughtful consideration and integration, with the ultimate aim of maximizing combat effectiveness.”
  •  Ensuring “our force presentation and force generation models are aligned to the way we intend to fight as articulated in our current Air Force Future Operating Concept. This means adapting many of our current paradigms for units of action, and orienting toward team preparation for deployment to be combat effective more rapidly.”
  •  Defining and refining “the force design that provides the optimum size, shape, and composition of our force. This entails not only incorporation of currently unfielded classes of capabilities” such as collaborative combat aircraft and “also new competencies and skill sets for which we must organize and train future Airmen.”
  • Adapting “our organizational structure to optimize for great power competition. This entails applying ‘integrated by design’ to capability development. This organizational design should focus on ensuring designated commanders can focus on training, readiness, and warfighting—with both the requisite authority and accountability. Meanwhile, other commanders will focus on supporting capability development and sustainment. However, all will be oriented on providing well trained, equipped, and ready forces for deterrence and conflict.”
  •  Transforming and modernizing training, which will require “continued focus on learner-centric training and education to optimize individual human performance. We have demonstrated new ways to leverage technology to not only improve information absorption and application for specific skill sets, but also ways to tailor training to individual Airmen and enable them to learn and apply skills more rapidly and effectively throughout their years of service.”
  •  Harnessing “the innovative talent and spirit that exists in every corner of our Air Force by vectoring that energy toward solving our key Air Force challenges. We must continue to connect and empower the innovation ecosystem so the brilliance of individuals can better serve the entire Air Force team.”
  •  Ensuring “our commitment to the success of the team. This includes demanding and protecting an environment in which all Airmen can reach their full potential. It means uplifting our wingmen, while holding ourselves accountable for our actions. It means removing barriers while maintaining and enforcing standards. It means all-axis leadership—top-down, peer-to-peer, and even ‘leading up.’”

Allvin’s nomination had been among hundreds held up in the Senate by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who has blocked general officer promotions over concerns about DOD funding travel for troops and family members seeking abortions or other reproductive health services unavailable in their duty locations. 

After making no inroads with Tuberville, despite his drawing increasing ire—and in some cases outright vitriol—of fellow Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called individual roll-call votes for the leaders of the military services. 

Despite the Senate’s political gridlock, the upper chamber had little objection to Allvin himself, swiftly confirming him in a 95-1 vote on Nov. 2 once his nomination reached the floor. Allvin was sworn in soon after the vote by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall at Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy, his alma mater. Allvin took his oath for perhaps the last time at the same location where he graduated 37 years before. Both men were attending Corona, a conference of senior Air Force leaders that Kendall and now Allvin lead.

“We know each of us is serving in a place of importance in this great Air Force, and in a time of extraordinary consequence,” Allvin concluded. “I can think of no cause more honorable than this, and I could not be more proud to serve as your Chief of Staff. We know the challenges. … Let’s follow through and meet them head on!”

Allvin is only the second Chief to have been neither a fighter nor bomber pilot; the other was Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, CSAF No. 19, who spent much of his career in the Special Operations world. Allvin has extensive operational and staff background and has commanded at the squadron, wing, and operations center levels. He spent much of the past decade in the Pentagon either on the Air Staff or Joint Staff. 

“In today’s dynamic environment, our service faces both significant challenges and tremendous opportunities—the world’s greatest Air Force will meet them head-on just as innovative Airmen have done for generations,” Allvin said in a statement. “My wife, Gina, and I are humbled by this opportunity, and we are eager to continue to serve our Air Force, our Airmen, and their families.”

As an Air Staff leader, Allvin was a visionary who helped to craft the joint force operating concepts advanced by three successive Chiefs: Gen. Mark Welsh, No. 20; Gen. David Goldfein, No. 21; and Brown, No. 22.  

Under Senate rules, senators may place such holds on individuals or groups. The Senate can force votes on individual nominees, but Senate Democrats, who hold the majority, declined to do so for months, arguing that giving in to Tuberville would set a dangerous precedent. The number of general officer nominations affected has grown steadily and now numbers more than 400.  

In September, Tuberville tried to force an individual vote on Gen. Eric Smith to be the next Commandant of the Marine Corps in an unusual procedural motion. Schumer responded by calling up the nominations for Brown, Smith, and Gen. Randy George, to be the next Chief of Staff of the Army, for individual votes. 

A similar process unfolded in late October, as Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) sought votes on Allvin and Adm. Lisa Franchetti, nominated to be the next Chief of Naval Operations. 

The moves gained added urgency after Smith, having been confirmed as Commandant but still without a No. 2, suffered a medical emergency and was hospitalized Oct. 30. That left the Marine Corps with a three-star acting leader. Along with Allvin, the Senate confirmed another service head in Franchetti, also in a 95-1 vote, and Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, who will temporarily head the USMC in Smith’s absence as the service’s newest four-star general.

“They are outstanding leaders who have faithfully served their country for decades, and I know they will continue to be great leaders of our force as they continue to tackle the crucial national security issues of these challenging times,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.

Others Also Joined in the Praise

“The long wait for General Allvin to be confirmed is thankfully over, and now the Air Force can get on with its important modernization and readiness initiatives,” said Bernie Skoch, Chair of the Air & Space Forces Association. “General Allvin is a gifted senior leader whose operational, staff, and test experience make him ideally suited to build on the outstanding work of his predecessor. The unprecedented global threats facing our military today pose challenges for which airpower is, in many cases, the only answer and most effective deterrent. His leadership will be crucial in the years ahead.”

With Allvin’s confirmation, however, the Air Force now has no Vice Chief of Staff. Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Lt. Gen. James C. “Jim” Slife has been nominated to succeed Allvin as Vice Chief, but his nomination is among those on hold. An Air Force spokesperson confirmed to Air & Space Forces Magazine that there will be no acting VCSAF; Allvin, like Smith, will serve functionally as both Chief and Vice Chief until Slife can be confirmed.