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Seeking troops' ideas is good: Here are a few of my own

May. 2, 2013 - 12:35PM   |  
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To most readers, it must have looked like an everyday news reporting story.

To me, it was a story that highlighted the absurd.

An article in this newspaper reported that the Air Force will soon have a mechanism for airmen to submit their ideas for saving money in these times of reduced federal funding.

“Have your say in cutting costs” (April 22, Page 23) told us troops of all ranks will soon be able to submit their ideas for saving money “that can be used for more flying hours, tuition assistance and base repairs.” The officer touting this initiative in the story was Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer.

My first thoughts were logical enough:

■What, there’s no way for airmen to submit their ideas already? Isn’t the concept of a “suggestion program” a pretty well-established tradition?

■Why’s the Air Force making news of the fact that it will “soon” have such a program? I mean, how long does it take to get something like this started? How about now?

Those rational questions arose before I looked again and saw how irrational the article seemed.

Here’s the absurdity: An airman first class (for example) is being asked if he has ideas on how to save money by an officer who occupies a job slot that could be downgraded and who has four stars on his shoulder boards.

There’s nothing wrong with Spencer, but does any military service branch seriously need a four-star officer as its deputy?

Yes, we’ve had one since 1947. But do we need one in today’s era of downsizing?

I wouldn’t demote anybody who’s already serving. But if I were an airman taking advantage of a suggestion program, I would recommend this:

■Four-star rank should be reserved for service chiefs and combatant commanders.

■A three-star officer (not four, as now) should head every major command.

■Every job position down to wing commander should be reduced by one rank. Wing commanders should be colonels, as they were throughout most of our history,

“All of our service branches are top heavy,” a recently retired senior officer told me.

On our flight lines and in our back shops, where we have better staff sergeants and captains than we deserve, our troops are busting their butts to do a great job. Both airmen and defense experts looked at my ideas and gave me the nod. Some say I’m not going far enough.

But there’s one more step I’d take — a lifetime ban on anyone retiring above the rank of O-6 being employed in the defense industry.

We simply must address troops’ perception that some flag officers see themselves as temporarily in uniform while en route to their real calling with a defense-industry corporation.

I’m sure others have better suggestions. I hope our leaders will take them seriously.


Robert F.Dorr is an Air Force veteran and the author of “Mission to Tokyo.” Find him Bob Dorr at

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