NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force has gotten into the bad habit of deploying airmen overseas on their own, and needs to get back to a team-based structure, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said Tuesday.

During a speech at the Air Force Association's Air Space Cyber conference, Goldfein said he is putting Air Combat Command head Gen. Hawk Carlisle in charge of the effort to ensure airmen don't deploy alone.

"I'm concerned that over the past 15 years, we have migrated into sending too many single airmen into combat," Goldfein said. "While we will never be the service that says, if you want an airman, you get an entire squadron — because that's not what the nation needs, we need to be a little more flexible than that — I think the pendulum has swung a little too much to individual airmen."

Goldfein said it is too early to say how big teams will be when they deploy, but should have at least three airmen.

But something needs to change, he said. When airmen deploy by themselves, he said, they are on their own as they learn the processes and procedures for getting to the theater, join a team with troops from other services, and learn the lexicon of the joint community of which they become part.

And what worries Goldfein even more is that when airmen return, having undergone significant combat experience, they have no one to talk to who has shared those experiences.

When teams are established, he said, they would also re-deploy together, which is one of the most important parts of this plan.

And each team will have a leader in charge of making sure the team is organized, trained and equipped, he said.

In a news conference after his speech, Goldfein said the Air Force will look at the lessons learned from the AEF Next, or Air Expeditionary Force, program. The 2014 AEF Next program sought to have units deploy together and set a standard battle rhythm to ensure airmen have enough time at home between deployments.

But it's important to keep working on improving deployment processes, he said. The Air Force has been deploying regularly in the 15 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said, and he doesn't foresee operational tempos declining anytime soon.

"It's time for us to do a reset," Goldfein said. "If we're going to be at this for another 15 years, how do we maintain this op tempo and ensure that we are properly preparing our airmen for combat operations, all the way through redeployment and reintegration?"

Team sizes could vary job-by-job, Goldfein said. An explosive ordnance disposal team could look different than a communications team, a flying team or a maintenance team, he said.

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 He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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