As defense spending shrinks, the Air Force cannot make due with less - it will have to do less, according to the head of Air Mobility Command Gen. Ray Johns Jr. (File)
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As defense spending shrinks, the Air Force cannot make due with less — it will have to do less, according to the head of Air Mobility Command.
"It's paramount to us that whatever we do — and if the money's cut because the nation wants a smaller military — that we tell the nation what we will not be able to do by giving up certain capabilities, but those that we retain we have to be able to execute flawlessly so we can respond immediately," Gen. Ray Johns Jr. told Air Force Times in a Nov. 20 interview.
The Air Force needs to have discussions both internally and with top military and civilian leaders about how budget cuts mean it will no longer be able to carry out certain missions in the time, size and scope currently expected, Johns said in the wide-ranging interview.
Johns, who is slated to retire Nov. 30, said the Air Force cannot find itself in a position where it is unable to respond to a situation because it does not have the resources for all of the missions it is tasked with doing.
"The last thing that we want to do is say that we can do all these things and in reality we can't — and you'll hear us talking about a ‘hollow force,'" he said. "So whatever we say we can deliver on, we've got to make sure we are organized, trained and ready to do it tonight. Otherwise, when we're called upon, we'll say, ‘We can't do that; we can't get these aircraft in the air; give me a week or two to get ready.' The nation can't react that way."
The Air Force also needs to figure out how to unburden airmen from ancillary training to let them focus on their primary duties, Johns said.
During the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference, Johns said wing commanders, squadron commanders and other supervisors need to figure out what extra activities their airmen can stop doing.
"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?" Johns said Sept. 19.
The Air Force has "undervalued" airmen's core functions, Johns told Air Force Times.
"By the time you're a captain or a tech sergeant, you have to be a master craftsman, be it in EOD, be it aviation — you name the role," Johns said. "You have to know your skills so very, very well because from that point on — as a master sergeant, as a major — I start broadening you out to do staff work, I start broadening you out to run the organization, run the institution."
But reducing training and extra duties will not give airmen more free time, also known as "white space" on their schedules, Johns said.
"I don't believe there's such a thing as ‘white space,' because whenever something comes off my schedule, I have 10 other things that need to go on," he said. "If my wife gets hold of my schedule, guess what, it gets filled up really quick because she's got a whole bunch of things she wants me doing."
Johns said he trusts his commanders to determine how much training they need, so it's not necessary to issue command guidance on which training is crucial.
"I don't want to put out a manuscript that says, ‘here's what you need to do,' he said. "I need to give them the ability to command. Each unit is different: different locations, different training environments, different mission sets. Sometimes it's ‘just-in-time' training: ‘Hey, you're going to go off to Country X for a humanitarian crisis, what are the customs and courtesies, let's be aware of that.'"
Between deployments, training and flying other missions, mobility airmen can spend up to 230 days away from home in a given year. Active-duty airmen are supposed to get two months at home for every month they spend deployed, but not everyone gets that, said Johns, who doesn't foresee more time off for mobility airmen in the near future.
"Everyone would like more time at home, but when we put this uniform on, we make this commitment to answer the call," he said. "Do I want to get them more time? Yes. Are we going to turn down business, are we going to walk away from a neighbor, another nation that needs help? No, we're not."
While he can't give them more time off, Johns believes it's important to let airmen know that their service is appreciated.
"Equally, that their family who sacrifices — because on the fourth of July, when I deploy them forward, there's a lot of hotdogs and hamburgers that go uncooked by a mom or dad because they're half way around the world — those families need to know that the sacrifice their military member is making, they have to feel appreciated about it because they're the ones that don't get to see that ‘mission complete' light come on," he said.
At a time when the active-duty force, Guard and Reserve are divided over their share of proposed cuts to aircraft and personnel, Air Mobility Command shows how the three can work together, Johns said.
"I couldn't be more proud of the Guard and Reserve because every time there's a situation — Haiti, you name the last hurricane that came through — my gosh, they are calling and saying, ‘Coach, put me in: Sir, let me help,'" he said.
One reservist at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., also works for a California power utility, so he was able to make sure that power trucks being flown to New York and New Jersey arrived on time so they could help residents who lost power during Hurricane Sandy.
"I was worried about how these vehicles are going to show up, and I tell you what, that was a home run," Johns said. "He was helping us load them and then he got in the aircraft in his civilian status and went forward and deployed with the trucks to help return power back to those folks on the East Coast. So to me it's a magnificent solution."
Looking to the future, mobility airmen will continue to perform three essential missions: airlift, aerial refueling and aeromedical evacuations, said Johns, who will be replaced by Gen. Paul Selva, previously vice commander of Pacific Air Forces.
"What they provide are delivering hope, fueling the fight and saving lives," he said.
Mobility airmen will also be busy responding to natural and man-made disasters, Johns said. Unfortunately, no one can predict where the next hot spot will be.
"Two years ago, when we were doing the Iraq drawdown [and] the Afghanistan plus-up, if I had come in and said, ‘Hey, I'm sized to do this, I had to mobilize the reserves, but I'm worried.' ... I'm worried about an earthquake in Haiti; I'm worried about the worst oil spill in the history of our nation in the Gulf; I'm worried about an earthquake in Chile; I'm worried about the worst floods in Pakistan — and oh, by the way, I'm worried about a volcano erupting in Iceland.'
"‘And they'd say, "Ray, there's no way that could ever happen; you're making this stuff up; there's no way that can happen, even in a year.' I'd say, ‘You're right: It happened in six months.'"