Air Force leaders want to add 1,600 airmen and civilians to the ranks of commander support staffs over the next five years as part of an effort to take pressure off of squadrons.

By fiscal 2022, they hope to add 170 officers, 469 enlisted, and 961 civilians, which would bring the total number of command support staff to more than 6,300, said Brig. Gen. Stephen Davis, director of manpower, organization and resources, in a new release. The plan is to hire all 961 civilians in fiscal 2018.

The increase in support staff is part of the move to strengthen squadrons, which is a key priority of Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein. Last year, the Air Force first sought to reduce additional duties burdening airmen, and a review ended up eliminating, reassigning or reducing 29 of 61 duties studied.

Many of those duties were reassigned to commander support staffs, the release said. So last August, the Air Force decided to make sure those staffs were adequately funded and staffed to handle those new jobs.

"Squadrons are the core unit of the Air Force," said Davis, the officer in charge of the squadron revitalization effort, in the release. "We must ensure they have the support required to accomplish the mission and support their airmen. This is one step of many we plan to take to help revitalize Air Force squadrons."

In a budget briefing at the Pentagon Tuesday, Maj. Gen. James Martin, deputy assistant secretary for budget, said that bringing on more support staff to relieve pilots of administrative duties would give the pilots more time to train. It would also give maintainers — another undermanned, stretched-thin group of airmen — more freedom to be out on the flightline and fixing planes, he said.

The release noted that the squadrons most in need of help will receive priority when the new support staff are assigned.

"Some of the more than 1,975 active-duty squadrons are already fully manned, while others are minimally manned," the Air Force release said. "The Air Force will work with major commands to assess areas of greatest need and prioritize manning."

Davis said that in the past, not all support positions assigned to squadrons have been fully funded.

"We're fixing that and will also add new positions to increase the level of [staff] support for many squadrons. Fully funding the increased [support staff] requirement is a key element in revitalizing Air Force squadrons."

In a follow-up email, Maj. Bryan Lewis, an Air Force spokesman, said these hires are separate from contract staff being brought on to help major commands with operational tasks specific to flying units, such as scheduling, evaluation and administrative duties. Air Combat Command started augmenting its staffs with those contractors in fiscal 2017 to help with training. Air Education and Training Command, Pacific Air Forces, and U.S. Air Forces in Europe will add their contractors to fighter units in 2018.

Other major commands are considering adding contractors of their own, Lewis said, and will make a decision as part of the fiscal 2019 budget process.

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.

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