Personnel Redemption

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday he intends “immediately to stop further reductions in Air Force personnel.” He made the statement while speaking to hundreds of assembled airmen at Langley AFB, Va., the first of three planned stops this week to meet with airmen in the wake of USAF’s leadership shakeup on June 5 (see above). USAF crafted a plan in 2004 to cut end strength by about 60,000 airmen to free up much-needed funds for modernization initiatives, such as a new tanker. The final group of 13,000 airmen was scheduled to go in Fiscal 2009, giving USAF a force of 316,600 active duty personnel. But since the time of the original plan, demands on airmen has grown with new missions like the fledgling Africa Command and support for a burgeoning Army and Marine Corps, thereby making a force of 316,600 too small. Since the service didn’t have the funds to pay for the buy-back of airmen to a more reasonable level of about 330,000, it was forced earlier this year to include this request in its unfunded requirements list for Fiscal 2009. So far the Congress has not supported this measure. Gates made his comment came as he was recognizing the sacrifices of airmen in the war on terror. “While most public attention on the costs of the war and the strain on our forces has been focused on the Army, the reality is that our airmen and women and those in the other services are under strain as well,” he said. “Your families have also borne this burden and the Air Force has its own fallen heroes often struck down while serving on the ground alongside soldiers and marines. We know this and we are working to ease the burden.” He provided no details of the halt to the drawdown. Gates will also be visiting Peterson AFB, Colo., home of Air Force Space Command, and Scott AFB, Ill., home to Air Mobility Command, this week to reinforce his call for greater rigor and accountability in USAF’s nuclear weapons oversight.