Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso became the Air Force's newest — and first female — personnel chief last October. She's now overseeing the service's efforts to rebalance its force after the steep drawdown of 2014 and the emergence of new missions such as the fight against the Islamic State.
At the same time, the Air Force is beginning the process of integrating women into the last six male-only combat jobs which account for about 4,000 special operations positions. And as the force tries to fix shortfalls in crucial career fields, Grosso is hoping to make it easier to tap guardsmen and reservists to buttress the active duty.
She spoke with Air Force Times staff writer Stephen Losey on Feb. 5. Here are excerpts of the interview.
You're coming in at a time when the Air Force has gone through force management and completed the lion's share of the major overhaul of the enlisted evaluation system. With those having been done, what are your goals as the new A1?
I have kind of three things on my mind that I'm focusing on. The first one is to make progress on [the human capital portions of] our new strategy [America's Air Force: A Call to the Future]. As we build policies and programs, are we helping the Air Force and the human resource system to be more agile?
We really want to have a seamless infrastructure across the total force. We’d like to be able to look at all of our airmen — active, gGuard, rReserve and civilian — and basically say, where is the talent? What kind of talent do I need for this mission, and then how do I bring that talent to bear?
Right now, there's siloed rule sets, policies, that make that harder to do. So let's start figuring out how to break down those barriers, so I can access all the talent I have.
Does that mean that if there's a squadron that needs an experienced crew chief, you want to make it easier to bring on a reserve crew chief to plug a gap in the active duty?
Yeah, exactly. We need crew chiefs. That's a pretty tangible requirement. We know where the crew chiefs are, so the bigger challenge is, how do I get them to do the mission, how do I pay them, what kind of orders do I put on? It turns out that some of those processes really go back to the strategic reserve. Our reserve component coming out of World War II was really a strategic reserve.
They've really, over time, been transitioning to a more operational reserve, and as we've changed the focus, the policies frankly haven't kept up. These systems are old, they arcane, they're not designed for an operational force, and that's just one discreet task that we're trying to fix. It'll make us so much more effective if we can access all of the talent in the total force.
Second one is recruiting and retention. The world has really changed. A big part of my task right now is to help the Air Force grow and how do we do that, make sure we're growing where the mission needs are, and how do we do that in a timely fashion with the right people in the right place at the right time.
So recruiting and retention will be huge parts of my priorities and making sure that we match the senior leadership desires for the speed with [at] which we're growing and the skills we're growing in and using all of the personnel tools that we have for that.
Then the final one is the category of resiliency: How do we continue to make sure we have resilient airmen and families? We're learning from the Army on how do we make sure that we are taking care of an airman from the time that they say they want to be an airman, really, until they die, how much do we do for them, how do we make sure that they're okay, especially if there are some challenges connected with their service that's helping them maybe not be as successful as they could in life?
Along those lines we're working on an interpersonal violence strategy. When I was in the [sexual assault prevention and response] world, we had a specific violence prevention strategy to prevent sexual assault, but what we learned was that there's these behaviors, which we try to get the interpersonal violence, which basically is sexual assault, suicide, family violence, and workplace violence.
They all have overlapping risk factors for perpetration. So we thought, if we have an overall interpersonal violence-prevention strategy, we would be much more effective, and it would take less time to do the training to change the behavior that we're looking for.
That's a huge effort that we're just starting to take underway to hopefully get after some of these behaviors that are troubling to us and think about it in a more holistic way with what the experts know about how to prevent this.
The term interpersonal is really important because we're in the business of violence, and so this is about appropriate uses of violence and inappropriate uses of violence. In a profession of arms this concept is really, really important.
What's on your plate as far as improving the diversity of the Air Force and increasing the opportunities for female and minority airmen?
It starts with opening all of the positions to women. There were only about 4,000 positions that weren't open, but I think it's hugely, hugely important that we now can say hey, every position's open, and there's a set of criteria you have to meet, and it doesn't involve your gender.
There are mental and physical attributes you need for every job we have, and if you meet those mental and physical attributes, you can do the job. I think that gets to being an employer that people will want to be a part of, including [both] women and men.
One of the other things that we've done: At the Air Force Academy, there's a certain height requirement to fly an airplane. That's a physical requirement. Depending on what the airplane is, you can actually be shorter or taller. At the academy they had a waiver process in place for, really, women because most men aren't too short, but if they were, it would apply to them.
They just had the waiver in place. Well, ROTC just never had the waiver. And so when you open the door to the waiver, suddenly a lot more women can start getting into the pool. You don't know how many will make it out, but at least you open the door to a lot more women.
I think there's greater work to be done as far as people of color to make us look attractive. There are so many requirements that exclude people from service. But the way we fight warfare is morphing. A lot of these [requirements] we really haven't taken a hard look at since World War II.
If you are interested in the military, you go out to the recruiter and you find out, gosh, if you weigh more than X amount, you're not eligible, so you just walk away. So we're really taking a very systematic look to say, is that really the point at which we want people to turn away. That, again, will increase the pool of people with whom we engage. That's what we're trying to do more strategically.
Now that all combat jobs have been opened up to women, where does the Air Force go from here in integrating them?
We're waiting for the secretary to approve those implementation plans. We were told that it'll probably be in the next 10 to 14 days. But basically what we've teed up are all of the things along the way: How do we recruit them, how do we bring them in, how do we train them, how do we make sure the infrastructure and the things they need to be successful are in the training environment? How do we manage them? How do we make sure that they have a path to success?
So all of those things are in our implementation plan. But I think we're really well postured [for success], because so much of our force is integrated, and we've worked this for two years with the operational commands that will receive these women.
How about uniforms? Are you looking at any possible changes that might alter uniforms in any way?
There's nothing on my radar about the uniform that's going to change.
Any chances of anything such as TERAs or RIFs or VSPs coming in the next year or two?
I don't think so. I can never guarantee it. I can only hedge because you just never know what the world's going to look like, but based on what we know right now, no.
Really everything we are doing is to grow towards the new mission areas where we need more people to execute those missions.
When you grow the force, you have to get more trainers into place.
And so we've been working really hard to get the military-training instructors and the technical-training instructors and the officer-training where they need to be to create the future.