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16 things airmen need to know for 2013

Dec. 31, 2012 - 10:37AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 31, 2012 - 10:37AM  |  
Only minor changes to the Air Force's physical training program are likely in 2013, but many airman want more scrutiny of the waist measurement.
Only minor changes to the Air Force's physical training program are likely in 2013, but many airman want more scrutiny of the waist measurement. (Airman 1st Class Naomi Griego / Air Force)
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Airmen and civilian employees unload a pallet onto a C-17 destined for Afghanistan in September. About 25,000 airmen are expected to deploy to Afghanistan in 2013 on six-month rotations. (Air Force)

The new year will bring changes in many areas that affect the lives of airmen, including continued force-shaping, toughened professional education requirements and a clampdown on training instructors.

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The new year will bring changes in many areas that affect the lives of airmen, including continued force-shaping, toughened professional education requirements and a clampdown on training instructors.

Here's what's on the horizon for 2013:

1. More force cuts. It took the Air Force and Congress all year to agree on a fiscal 2013 budget, which calls for cutting 3,340 active-duty airmen, 1,000 airmen from the Air National Guard and 520 from the Reserve this fiscal year.

That's less than the 9,900 airmen the Air Force initially planned to cut, so it's logical to expect more end-strength reductions when the Air Force unveils its fiscal 2014 budget request in February.

The final budget also restores close to 100 planes the Air Force planned to retire this fiscal year, including 32 mobility aircraft; the service can decide whether they will be C-27Js or C-130s.

Defense spending is expected to decrease by $500 billion over the next 10 years, but the Defense Department may need to deal with nearly $500 billion more in cuts if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on cutting the deficit before Jan. 2.

The cuts, known as sequestration, were meant to be so draconian as to force Congress to make a deal to avoid them, but lawmakers put off dealing with the issue until after the 2012 election, by which time it was clear that President Obama and Republicans in Congress were far apart on a host of issues, including tax increases. At press time, no agreement to avoid sequestration had been reached.

In September, the Office of Management and Budget issued a report on how sequestration would affect the Defense Department. The Air Force would see about $5.2 billion in cuts to operation and maintenance; a decrease in procurement spending of nearly $5 billion; and about $5.2 billion in cuts to operation and maintenance. Also, about $162 million would be cut from military construction.

2. Mandatory MTI duty? Standards are getting tougher for military training instructor duty in the wake of a sex scandal in which more than two dozen trainers have been investigated for improper relationships with recruits. The Air Force is also adding more instructors to the MTI corps and will increase the number of female trainers from 11 percent to 25 percent by November and may turn to mandatory selection to fill the ranks.

Air Education and Training Command, along with the Enlisted Force Development Panel, is considering "nonvoluntary selection or a nominative process through the major commands," AETC head Gen. Edward Rice wrote in a report to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

A decision could come in July.

Trainer misconduct prompted dozens of changes within basic military training in 2012. At least 28 MTIs have been investigated for accusations ranging from contact with trainees on Facebook to rape. The Air Force has charged a dozen of those instructors, five of whom have been convicted at court-martial. The service has identified 54 women as possible victims of instructor misconduct.

An independent review of BMT ordered by Rice produced a number of changes, including tighter restrictions for potential trainers and increased staffing. Two trainers rather than one are now assigned to basic training flights, groups of about 50 recruits. Rice said the change will increase oversight and reduce stress on trainers, who traditionally work 80-plus hours a week, issues identified in the report.

New MTIs must have reached the rank of technical sergeant and previously served in a leadership role. Staff sergeants who want to serve as instructors must get a waiver and have at least one year time in grade.

More women will also join the corps, accounting for a quarter of all MTIs by November, Rice said, up from 11 percent.

In February, MTI duty will go from four years to three, which is good news if you find yourself "voluntold."

3. No more ORIs. A more manageable process of measuring unit effectiveness has already replaced a series of loathsome inspections at U.S. Air Forces in Europe, including the Operational Readiness Inspection, by which bases were ultimately judged. The rest of the service may follow suit as early as this summer, said Col. Robert Hyde, Air Force director of inspections.

"The intended goal of the new system is to adequately report data to higher headquarters without being overly burdensome or disruptive to military operations," said a Dec. 3 news release from the 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs.

Before piloting the new inspection system, USAFE bases spent about two out of every five years undergoing inspections, it said.

Under the new system, wing commanders will continually evaluate their wing and conduct inspections on a timeline they set, Hyde said. An inspector general team will make a "capstone" visit every two years to validate the commander's work. The team will focus on four areas: mission execution, improving the unit, managing resources and leadership.

"The end goal is a state of constant compliance," Chief Master Sgt. Kirk Baldwin, self-assessment program manager for the 52nd Fighter Wing, said in the news release. "Be mission ready, not inspection ready. Historically, the Air Force spends an incredible amount of time preparing for inspections. If you just do your job, you don't have to waste man hours on useless preparation … and, in fact, you can be written up for [wasting time] in the new system."

Top Air Force leaders will decide during the annual Corona conference this summer whether to take the new inspections system forcewide, Hyde said. If they do, "we will begin implementation immediately. … It will cascade across all the commands."

4 Deployments. About 25,000 airmen are expected to deploy to Afghanistan in 2013 on six-month rotations, Air Force officials said.

The drawdown of NATO forces in Afghanistan will not affect the length of airmen's deployments, Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson said.

The Air Force could not provide a list of which units are slated to deploy to Afghanistan in 2013, although it has released that information in other years.

"We're unable to provide accurate projections of aircraft and units that may be assigned to Afghanistan during 2013 since those requirements continue to be evaluated and adjusted, both with respect to the combatant commander's needs and the status and availability of our units," Air Combat Command spokesman Maj. Brandon Lingle said in an email.

As Afghan security forces assume greater responsibility in the fight against the Taliban and other armed groups, the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission will become even more important, according to the assistant deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

"As we're transitioning to the security force assistance mission, we still need to get the soldiers and folks out to the different locations with the Afghans, and to make sure that they're able to do that in a manner that is safe," Brig. Gen. Jeff Harrigan">told Air Force Times in September.

In addition to deployments downrange, the Air Force plans to rotate F-16 and C-130 pilots and crews through Lask Air Base, a Polish installation home to a permanent detachment of 10 airmen, said Capt. William Russell, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

"Current plans call for four two-week rotations of aircraft in 2013, with a minimum of two rotations designated with F-16s," Russell said in a November email to Air Force Times. "When these rotations occur, the number of U.S. personnel could surge to around 200. There are currently no plans to permanently station U.S. aircraft in Poland."

In late 2013, AEF Next a concept that envisions having airmen deploy on teams mostly comprising airmen from their home stations will reach initial operational capability, but that will not affect how airmen are deployed, said Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Max Despain.

"In the near term, we are working hard to have the right program for the current and future environment before we put it to work," Despain said in an email.

"There may be locations where units are cobbled together based on skill sets required and overall availability," she said. "There is no change to the Air Force rotation policy. Airmen should expect to deploy for six months, but combatant commanders determine duration based on mission/location requirements."

5. Operational tempo. Troops across the force can expect operational tempo to subside but only somewhat. It's unclear precisely how many of today's 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will come home, but President Obama has promised a "steady" withdrawal between now and the end of 2014.

The Pentagon will continue to maintain a total force of about 50,000 in the Persian Gulf region, which includes about 13,000 troops in Kuwait and a steady rotation of Navy ships moving through ports in Bahrain. And since the number of mobilized reservists has fallen steadily in recent years, the burden of those deployments will fall mostly on active-duty members.

Moreover, the strategic shift toward Asia is likely to keep many units, particularly in the Air Force and Navy, busy regardless of the drawdown from Afghanistan.

6. Changes in your grocery cart. In 2013, your on-base stores may offer more locally produced and grown foods and more products manufactured by environmentally friendly, sustainable means. Under pressure from consumers and Congress, the Defense Department is working on new procurement policies to identify more local fresh meat, poultry, seafood and produce that could be sold at commissaries and exchanges. Such a move might result in fresher food but possibly at slightly higher prices.

Defense officials are weighing how many customers are willing to pay a little more for a product that's less harmful to the environment, which would determine both stock assortment and placement on store shelves.

7. Tobacco-free Air Force. The Air Force plans to limit where you can smoke, chew, dip and sniff tobacco products in 2013, so get ready.

Last March, the service unveiled an updated instruction that will not only stop people from using tobacco products near medical treatment facilities and their campuses, but also restrict their use to designated tobacco areas and housing units.

And if your favorite DTA was right outside your office door or somewhere close to building entrances, sidewalks, parking lots or playgrounds, prepare to walk farther away before you light up. DTAs are to be anywhere from 50 feet to 100 feet away from some areas to lessen the impact of secondhand smoke.

If all this weren't enough, the service now prohibits the sale of all tobacco products at military treatment facilities, service facilities, Air Force organizations and vending machines. Retail stores also are required to limit the display and visibility of tobacco and tobacco-related devices, and advertising of tobacco products is prohibited in all official service print and electronic publications.

The new Air Force Instruction doesn't indicate a deadline for moving or creating DTAs to conform to the new policy, but medical treatment facilities have until September to make their campuses tobacco-free.

8. Fitness program tweaks. Every 180 days, the Air Force has the option of tinkering with its guidance for the fitness program. In 2012, the service did everything from establishing an altitude correction for the 1.5-mile run to eliminating civilian test administrators in its updates.

In fact, major changes such as updating discharge and retention recommendation requirements and defining the 24-month period for starting a discharge related to fitness failures were made in 2012. With 94 percent of airmen earning a passing score of 75, and more than 50 percent of those airmen scoring above 90, Air Force officials might not be inclined to make more adjustments to the PT program.

But many airmen are hoping the Air Force takes a harder look at some components of the test, particularly the waist measurement. Airmen have complained frequently on Air Force Times' website, Facebook and even the Air Force's own websites that if the service isn't willing to scrap the component, it should at least consider a person's height and age in some way.

9. PME revisions continue. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Chief James Roy announced at the end of August that the service would be overhauling enlisted professional military education over the next three years to get airmen to leadership school earlier in their careers and to make courses more relevant to the skills airmen need, including being able to communicate, think strategically and work cooperatively in a joint environment.

Gone are the days when an airman's rank determined whether he could enroll in a particular school. Instead, airmen will be automatically enrolled in leadership schools such as Airman Leadership School and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy based on time in service. And an overhaul of courses and their content is already underway. Roy said airmen can expect more details in 2013.

"EPME-Next puts a focus on the continuum of education over the course of an airman's career," Roy said in August. "It will expose airmen to Air Force institutional competencies earlier and more regularly than our current construct."

The "institutional competencies" encompass traits such as communication skills and strategic thinking and how to effectively lead others, all of which Air Force leaders believe every airman must master to be successful, Roy said.

EPME isn't the only education getting an overhaul.

The Basic Officer Training Course at Officer Training School has been cut from 12 weeks to nine. Among other changes, duty days will be extended by an hour and a half, combatives training will replace traditional physical training, and candidates will rely more than ever on modern technology to conduct their research, said Col. Thomas Coglitore, OTS commandant.

The change is expected to boost the number of graduates by 60 percent in 2013 and potentially save the service $1.9 million annually.

The revamped course eliminates up to 60 minutes of marching each day 15- to 20-minute treks to and from the base chow hall three times a day. Trainees now eat at a dining facility on campus.

Other changes enabling the shorter course include eliminating weather days and no more class time learning to use the library and online sources.

Under the 12-week program, the basic training course at OTS was offered seven times a year. The shortened course eventually will be offered up to nine times a year, Coglitore said.

The change means 1,055 second lieutenants will graduate in fiscal 2013, up from 642 in 2012.

10. VA promises big changes. The Veterans Affairs Department ended 2012 with almost 900,000 pending benefits claims, with about 600,000 claims lingering past VA's 125-day processing goal. The total is a modest 2.3 percent higher than a year earlier, but the number of old claims jumped 6.6 percent.

VA officials have promised that a variety of changes in how claims are processed will lead to the complete elimination of the backlog of claims older than 125 days by the end of 2015.

To meet that goal, VA will have to make big progress in 2013. If it does, claims from Afghanistan and Iraq war vets could be among those that move faster because of promised improvements in automation and electronic record sharing between VA and the Defense Department.

11. F-35's halting progress. The long-delayed F-35 program is poised to take some big steps in 2013.

Beginning this month, F-35A pilots from the Air Force will start training in classes of six after Air Education and Training Commander Gen. Edward Rice gave the program at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the go-ahead.

Eglin will host six classes of six pilots this year, working eventually to a full capacity of 100 pilots and 2,100 maintainer students. The program is expecting to have two Air National Guard pilots and one Reserve pilot going through the program at a time.

The base has nine of the Air Force variants of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35A. With the most recent deal between Lockheed Martin and the Defense Department calling for a second batch of the fighters, Eglin is expecting to receive 14 more eight Air Force variants, two Marine Corps short-takeoff variants and four Navy carrier variants, Eglin spokeswoman Maj. Karen Roganov said. All are expected by the end of 2013.

The pace of operations will continue to grow with Air Force pilots, along with Navy crews and the first pilots from the Netherlands coming for training, said Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing.

12. Uniform updates. The Defense Department is expected to release its "joint criteria" for camouflage uniforms across all services in the second quarter of this year.

In September, the Government Accountability Office released a report that found the military has wasted billions of dollars creating unique combat uniforms and did not share methodology, insight and experience in developing the uniforms. The Air Force spent years developing its "tiger stripe" uniform, but has since required most deployed airmen to wear the Army's MultiCam uniform.

The Defense Department, in response to the report, said the Joint Clothing and Textile Governance Board will release its criteria this year.

Airmen can also expect a further push for American-made uniforms. Members of Congress, led by Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif, and Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine, in October sent a letter to DoD urging it to comply with the Berry amendment, which requires food, clothing, fabrics and other textiles for the military to be grown or made in the U.S.

The issue came to light following">an Air Force Times story about an airman in Afghanistan who was issued Chinese-made boots.

Many airmen were relieved in 2012 that the lighter, ripstop airman battle uniforms were fielded, starting with a few bases in the summer.

The new uniform is in the fiscal 2013 clothing allowance, with the RABU cheaper than its heavier predecessor.

13 F-22 clearances. The F-22 program is looking to fly past the notorious issues that plagued the jet in 2012.

The Air Force is coming close to completing installation of a fix to the upper pressure garment, which was a main cause of oxygen problems facing Raptor pilots.

A replacement valve is in production and will be shipped to bases and installed in all vests by early 2013, Air Combat Command spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis said.

The fix is expected to lift one of the restrictions put in place last May a 44,000-foot ceiling on all F-22 flights.

Installation of an automatic backup oxygen system in the Raptor is on track to begin early this year, with the whole fleet expected to be modified throughout 2013. That installation will remove the other remaining flight restriction, which prohibited F-22s from flying aerospace control alert missions in Alaska.

The Raptors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, will be the first to get the new system, with others to follow suit.

The restrictions are all subject to approval from the Air Force and DoD, Sholtis said.

In another F-22 development, the squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., will be able to complete its move to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., once the 2013 defense authorization bill is signed into law.

14. Long-range strike bomber. Progress on the new, secretive long-range strike bomber will move forward, with about $300 million allocated in fiscal 2013 for the program.

The Air Force is looking to field up to 100 of the stealthy, possibly optionally manned bombers by the mid-2020s, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley has said.

From fiscal 2013 through fiscal 2017, the Air Force has allocated approximately $6.3 billion total, with each bomber expected to cost about $550 million.

Donley, speaking at an investors' conference in late November, said the long-range strike bomber takes up approximately 2 percent of Air Force investment, and that number will grow as the program advances.

The 2013 defense authorization bill stipulates that the new bomber be capable of carrying strategic nuclear weapons when it reaches initial operating capability, and be certified to use those weapons no later than two years after IOC.

"That bomber will come off the line and be certified first in conventional operations, and that is entirely appropriate," said Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, at the Global Strike Challenge Symposium in November.

"In the current security environment, the most likely use, the most likely need for long-range strike bombers is in a conventional operational stealthy penetrating platform. The ability to reach out and touch mobile targets, to integrate with the ISR, to be part of that larger battle space awareness," he said.

15. Pharmacy co-pay increases. Troops, family members and retirees who pick up brand-name or special prescriptions at a pharmacy other than a military facility will pay $4 to $19 more for medications in 2013.

Under the new law that dictates Pentagon policy, Tricare will continue charging $5 co-payments for generics at retail stores and nothing for a 90-day prescription by mail. But co-pays for brand-name drugs at retail pharmacies will rise to $17, up from $12, and to $44, up from $25, for specialty, or "nonformulary," drugs not on Tricare's list of approved medications.

Three-month refills by home delivery will increase to $13 for branded medications, up from $9, and nonformulary medicines will cost $43, up from $25.

Prescriptions and refills for medications listed on Tricare's formulary will continue to be offered at no charge at military treatment facilities.

16. Mail-order drugs mandate. As a trade-off to keep pharmacy co-payments lower than the Pentagon would like over the next five years, Medicare-eligible retirees and family members on Tricare For Life will be required to get their routine maintenance medications by mail.

Details are still being worked out, but Tricare for Lifers will need to refill their prescriptions for at least a year by mail after an initial 30-day allowance at a retail store. Waivers will be permitted under some circumstances, and beneficiaries can opt out after one year.

The pilot program is expected to last five years.

Again, military retirees and eligible beneficiaries living near a military treatment facility always can pick up their prescriptions for free at a base pharmacy.

Staff writers from reader">Jeff Schogol, from reader">Brian Everstine, from reader">Kristin Davis, from reader">Markeshia Ricks, from reader">Rick Maze, from reader">Andrew Tilghman and from reader">Patricia Kime contributed to this report.

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