Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said in an online discussion Tuesday that he's not worried the new enlisted performance report system will lead to a "backstabbing mindset" and hurt morale.
"We value, and should value teamwork [and] teambuilding, leadership etc...and I'm confident leadership will apply that to the evaluation process," Cody wrote in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat that covered a range of topics. "We don't value backstabbing or Airmen that are only concerned with themselves. I do believe we'll see morale with regards to this process improve as performance will be the driving factor and to be honest everyone knows who those [high-performing] Airmen are."
The Air Force is now rolling out its biggest changes in decades in how enlisted airmen are evaluated and promoted. The overhaul began last year with the debut of a new feedback form called the Airman Comprehensive Assessment, and continued by dropping numerical performance ratings in favor of a series of prewritten responses to describe how well airmen performed, among other changes.
But some airmen expressed concern that the new system would result in favoritism and would worsen the "good ole boy club" effect. Air Force officials say that won't happen, and that the transparency and restrictions on how many top promotion recommendations supervisors can hand out will prevent leaders from steering promotions to their favorite airmen and disregarding who is genuinely the best performer.
In the AMA chat, an airmen expressed concern about the so-called "whole person concept" the Air Force operates under when it evaluates airmen, in connection with the growing operations tempo and the pressures placed on enlisted airmen to volunteer and pursue further education.
In his response, Cody said the EPR changes are intended to focus on airmen's primary duty performance, and that the new system pays very little attention to the whole person concept.
Cody said that "the words education and volunteering are not included at all" in the new EPR form.
"We have to make sure performance is the primary factor for promotion," Cody said. "To be clear, we're not walking away from the Whole Person Concept. We must remember that we are all part of the Profession of Arms and being part of a profession means we're expected to do more than strictly our vocation."
Cody said the Air Force expects airmen to pursue personal and professional development, such as volunteering and going back to school, and to "be good ambassadors of the Air Force in the community."
But those extracurricular activities won't be enough to salvage a poor airman's promotion chances, Cody said.
"That only becomes a factor if we're talking about high performers," Cody said. "What we don't want is an Airman to be a below-average performer but move ahead of an excellent performer because they volunteered a lot or received a college degree."
Cody also said the Air Force isn't planning to loosen or otherwise change its tattoo standards.
"We can't forget that as an all-volunteer force we not only represent our country to the international community, we also rely on the trust and confidence of the American people," Cody said. "Deservedly or not, image is a big part of that ... beards, tattoos, long hair, and other factors play a role."
Cody said that if the Air Force finds it isn't able to recruit and retain the airmen it needs in the future, it may reconsider its rules.
But Cody also acknowledged that "tattoos (as well as long hair, beards, etc.) don't make our Airmen any less capable. That has never been the argument."
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.