Airmen are tired, and their leaders know it.
After 11 years of combat, ever-increasing training and education requirements, and the pressure of stretching every dollar, the message that airmen need a break is resonating with their top commanders.
"When I have an airman tell me, ‘Sir, I believe it's more important for me to get my squares filled — my master's degree, my PME, my additional duties — than it is for me to be proficient in the aircraft,' I then have to look at myself and say, ‘What am I valuing?'" said Gen. Raymond Johns Jr., commander of Air Mobility Command, during a leadership forum Sept. 19 at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference.
The Air Force needs to let airmen focus on their primary mission instead of ancillary training and additional duties, Johns said.
"We cannot do more with less; we have to do less, and what we're not going to do is up to that staff sergeant, that supervisor, that squadron commander, the wing commander, and they need to stop doing something," he said.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III acknowledged that professional military education is wearing out airmen and their families.
Midgrade officers, for example, need to get their master's degrees and take correspondence courses to stay competitive for promotion, in addition to their day jobs as mission commanders, instructor pilots and other positions.
"So they're working harder than everybody else, they're deploying more than everybody else and the people who are suffering are the ones they are not visiting at home," he said. "And if they're married, they probably have young kids. That's just wrong. We're asking too much."
The Air Force will work to relieve some of that pressure, he said.
Force levels hold steady
Airmen also may see some relief in force shaping that has led to voluntary and involuntary measures to stay within the congressionally mandated end strength, said Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones, deputy chief of staff for Air Force manpower, personnel and services.
Wholesale reductions in force are unlikely next year, because the tools used this year may result in the force ending fiscal 2012 at slightly below the 332,800 mandate, Jones said.
Though the Air Force has shed thousands of airmen in the past two years, Jones said he would not refer to those actions as a drawdown, as the end strength has not changed much. The airmen cuts were in response to record-high retention rates, and Jones said the service has worked to protect accessions and rebalance the force — something that will continue.