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An internal Air Force office tasked with finding a way to unify the three branches of the service is going full speed to provide its final recommendations this summer.
The Total Force Task Force was created in late January to guide the active, Guard and Reserve components back together after a year of public and bitter disagreements over the service’s missions and budgets.
The task force will take “a holistic approach to provide strategic options on the appropriate Total Force capabilities mix to meet current and future AF requirements,” according to the memo standing up the group.
Leading the task force are Maj. Gens. Mark Bartman, representing the Guard; Brian Meenan, representing the reserve; and John Posner on behalf of the active duty. The trio of generals have a full-time staff and work under the supervision of Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs.
Bartman is the commander of the Ohio Air National Guard; Meenan serves as the mobilization assistant to Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.; and Posner is the director of global power programs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition.
The three generals are joined in the Pentagon by four full-time staffers, but have access to “matrix” staff, individuals around the service whose expertise can be tapped part time. The task force is also in communication with former Air Force chiefs of staff and two adjutants general, Maj. Gens. Emmett Titshaw of Florida and Michael Edwards of Colorado, according to Bartman.
The goal of the task force is to guide the service to “balance,” Bartman said Thursday at an interview attended by the three generals.
“It doesn’t mean everybody gets one-third of the pie,” he said. “It just means that we are balanced overall across a number of variables.” The task force has identified “several dozen potential variables” that all three components have an interest in, and the group is in the process of identifying what each component’s priorities are.
The task force delivered a preliminary report in March and will provide another this month, with a final briefing due Aug. 15. Between reports, the task force will continue to have weekly discussions with the heads of various Air Force major commands, along with informal updates to Moeller.
What shape the final report, due at the start of October, will take is still unclear, but it is more likely to look like a Quadrennial Defense Review than a detailed unit-by-unit breakdown for the three branches of the service.
The final shape of the report depends on how much time the task force has to sort through the data, according to Posner, who said that the October due date may change based on the schedules of Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and whomever replaces Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, who is stepping down in June.
“We will provide strategic options,” Posner said. “The level of fidelity of those options, I think, depends on the level of time we have to sort through this information.
“Our work is not intended to be a nice little box we can tie with a bow and say ‘here, we’re done,’” he added. Because of all the variables “we’re not really sure where [the report] is going yet. We’ll see where that leads us.
“We’re going to try, as best we can, to quantify” the information, Posner said. “To make this an objective, quantifiable, dispassionate analysis of things, all these variables.”
In the fiscal 2013 budget plan, the Air Force proposed cutting 3,900 active-duty, 5,100 Guard and 900 reservists, a move that members of Congress, desperate to preserve bases in their states, decried as too targeted to the Guard.
What ensued was a very public battle between advocates of the active, Guard and Reserve components, played out on Capital Hill. As a result, the creation of a National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, an eight-person panel, was included in the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
The commission met for the first time April 30, and is still “30 to 45 days away from getting anything substantial,” said Whit Peters, a former Air Force secretary who was appointed to the commission by President Obama.
Because the commission is just getting off the ground, it is unclear how much contact the two groups will have. But all three generals agreed they are willing to assist their congressional counterparts and pointed out that supporting the commission is part of their job, as outlined in the memo.
“We’ve made ourselves available at their request, to assist them in any way they like,” Posner said.
With the commission essentially acting as a congressional version of the task force, Congress may put more weight in its findings.
But the generals in charge of the Task Force insist they see the influence of Congress as a positive, rather than a negative.
“Every now and then there will be a difference of opinion,” Meenan said, but the fact people care enough about air power to argue about it is “phenomenal.”
“It’s part of the process,” Posner said. “That’s their role. Everybody has a say. Our job is to create the most fact-based, objective, compelling argument for what we think is the best way forward. And hopefully, that rationale is sufficient to convince people. It’s all part of the healthy conversation, and I don’t think anybody ever expects Congress to not have an opinion.”
On the whole, the generals stressed that any differences among the services are relatively minor issues, rather than unbreachable rifts.
“We’re part of a family, and you can look at us as three brothers,” Bartman said. “You ever known a family where all the siblings live harmoniously in the house as they grow up? You’re always gonna have little squabbles here and there. But I would challenge anyone to say that when the bell rings that we have not gone out together and done exactly what our country needed us to do.”