Look to the Past for Answers

The Air Force leadership should look to the near past when drawing up its plan to revitalize squadrons, former Secretary F. Whitten Peters said Tuesday at ASC16. Peters noted the service faced similar personnel management difficulties—half-deployed squadrons, tired airmen, stressed families, and low retention rates—when he became undersecretary of the Air Force in 1997. “The words that we used then, the problems we saw then, are remarkably like those [Secretary Deborah Lee James] and [CSAF Gen. David Goldfein] were talking about today,” he said. Peters partially attributed difficulties to the service’s lack of a natural deployment unit, such as a naval carrier group. He said planners at the time realized only 20 percent of USAF aircraft had deployed since the Gulf War at any one time, and two 10-percent chunks of the aircraft formed into two expeditionary forces that rotated on 18-month cycles could provide peacetime conduct power. With that setup, airmen were able to deploy in squadrons since the Guard and Reserve also stood up squadrons. Peters said retention increased and the solutions looked like they were working until the 9/11 attacks created more deployments. However, Peters said just promising to solve the issue is a critical piece of the fix. “If people think you’re going to try and fix it, often the wives and children will stick with you,” Peters said.