Editorial: Dangerously overworked

"Do more with less" has become the 21st century mantra as technology, coupled with a sluggish economy, has led to personnel cutbacks across industry.

And the military. Today, the Air Force is operating with 50,000 fewer airmen than 10 years ago.

But down on the flight line, over in the drone module and up in the transport aircraft, there is more work than ever. The relentless missions driven by wars, deployments and exercises have raised the op tempo to a fever pitch. And at the home station — after the planes are fixed and the supplies strapped down — mounds of paperwork await. And if the budget cuts mandated by sequestration kick in next year, expect worse.

Everyone acknowledges the problem: In addition to burnout and problems keeping good airmen in uniform, overworking the force ultimately is a serious safety issue; there is real danger in operating an Air Force on the backs of frazzled maintainers, pilots, launch officers and others.

"We want all airmen to be part of the discussion and freely raise their concerns to the long-term health of the team," Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said. "It is essential that commanders, supervisors, and local leaders encourage that dialogue and make tough decisions, where they can, to decide what it is they can stop doing to ensure a healthy work/life balance for the force." Airmen should ask their chain of command for help, he said.

Certainly, airmen at all levels can set priorities and find work efficiencies. But it's the brass that has to find the big solutions and set expectations for what the Air Force reasonably can do and cannot do with given resources. Anything less than that amounts to a Band-Aid where a tourniquet is needed.

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