Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody delivers his Enlisted Perspective Feb. 21 at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium & Technology Exposition in Orlando, Fla. Cody's presentation highlighted the toll military service takes on families and the importance of creating a healthy work-life balance. (Scott M. Ash / Air Force)
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Years of war have taken a heavy toll on airmen, and unless they can have more time with their families, the Air Force will reach a breaking point, said the service's senior enlisted leader Thursday at the Air Force Association's winter convention.
The Air Force needs to look at all of the demands it places on airmen and figure the appropriate compensation for all the work they put in, said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody.
"When I say ‘compensation,' I'm not talking about pay and benefits," Cody said. "I'm talking about compensating for what we're asking them to do over time so they can have a balanced life, so they can go home, be unplugged, be with their families, reconstitute, come back to work energized, ready to hit it again hard."
Cody spoke at the AFA's annual Air Warfare Symposium, where he stressed the need for airmen to balance work with family life.
Airmen will do anything that is asked of them, and that has both positive and negative consequences, he said.
"Sometimes we don't stop ourselves," Cody said. "When we get going, we throttle our airmen up, we just go —we go forward. And sometimes, we just have to stay: ‘Stop; this not reasonable; this is not sustainable.' If we keep doing this, we will break ourselves and break ourselves hard — and we won't have the resources to fix ourselves."
It is up to Air Force leaders to set limits on what they expect of airmen to keep them from burning out, he said.
"You have to say, ‘Go home,' and sometimes you have to walk them out the door," Cody said.
Knowing airmen's limits means getting to know airmen better, he said.
"We need to know when their kids are having a ball game; we need to know when their spouse is going for a job interview; we need to know when their family members are in poor health — we need to know that so that we can help them balance their life," Cody said.
Cody also said the Air Force will have to take a hard look at what opportunities are available to enlisted airmen as the Air Force gets smaller. The service must reduce its active-duty end strength by 3,340 airmen this fiscal year, prompting the service to start voluntary and involuntary separation measures.
"As we become a smaller force — and we will become a smaller force, we're going through that process — the capabilities of that force have to be very focused," he said. "The investment dollars we have will be less. The opportunities to invest will be less. So as we look at the enlisted force and we continue to look to develop them, we have to be very discerning about who does what and when."
That means the Air Force will have to choose which airmen get special duty, new training and education, Cody said.
"Some will get everything; some will get some; all will get a little bit," he said.