Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody visited Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in April. His message: Stop whining. (Samuel King Jr. /A ir Force)
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You don’t need to tell Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody what aggravates enlisted airmen.
He already knows about it and he’s working on it.
Little more than three months on the job, Cody has launched a review into whether waist measurements should be part of physical training tests and if there are ways to revise the enlisted personnel report system so that everyone doesn’t automatically get a 5.
And he’s visiting Air Force bases, offering airmen a glimpse of possible changes ahead that, if adopted, would ripple across the enlisted force.
■Eliminating excessive awards
■Selecting airmen for special duties
■Promotion boards for master sergeants
Awards system review
During an airmen’s calls April 12 at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Cody spoke bluntly about excessive awards.
“It’s not T-ball; everyone doesn’t get a trophy. We have to keep that in mind, but sometimes it feels like that at your level,” Cody said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, did anyone not win something this year?’ ”
For senior noncommissioned officers, December is consumed with the awards process, so the Air Force needs to figure out the right number of awards for airmen, he said.
“We’ve got to get this under control, we do,” Cody said. “We could stand up a whole separate part of our organization just to take care of awards.”
It is important to keep in mind that recognition is meaningful for airmen, but the way to commend airmen for their service is not always to create another award, he said.
“The kind of recognition they’re looking for is they’re looking for you to recognize them,” Cody said. “It goes back to getting to know them — walking in there and saying, ‘Hey, you did a great job today,’ and actually knowing what they did today.”
It doesn’t mean anything when supervisors gather airmen at the end of the day and say “thanks for what you did” because airmen have heard that 1,000 times, he said.
“People appreciate when you know what they did, so when you’re out there on the flight line or you’re in a work center and you’re watching what they do, you watch how they interact with people, and at the end of the day, you go up and say, ‘Hey, I saw you working with that thing, that was awesome, that was really good how you did this, thanks so much’ — that’s recognition, that’s appreciation,” Cody said.
The Air Force has selected a lead major command and supporting MAJCOMs to examine the awards process and determine how many awards the Air Force has and whether the time needed to select airmen for awards is “exorbitant,” Cody told Air Force Times after the airmen’s calls. The review is looking into annual and functional awards, which do not yield decorations with point values.
“We’re pulling it all together right now,” he said in an email. “We’re at the point where the MAJCOM leads are bringing the information for discussion. We will make sure the leaders of the functional communities are involved, because we don’t want to break anything. We don’t want to fix anything that isn’t broken, but if we can make it better we will.”
Involuntary special duty
Meanwhile, the Air Force is “pretty far” into a review of all special duties, including first sergeants, military training instructors and professional military education instructors, Cody said.
Right now, airmen can earn up to $450 per month in special duty pay, depending on the assignment. Special duties do not yield promotion points, but they can be looked upon favorably at promotion time.
The current system of looking for volunteers to fill special duties no longer works, he said. It “worked a long time ago and it’s worked over time, but we forced it a lot,” Cody said.
The Air Force is considering requiring commanders to nominate their top performers for special duties to create a bench of the most qualified airmen for these jobs, he said.
Even if they don’t volunteer for special duties, all airmen had to volunteer to get into the Air Force, Cody said.
“What you’re interested in might be irrelevant; it’s what we need you to do,” he said.
However, there would be some minor exceptions for airmen in undermanned career fields — such as battlefield airmen — because the Air Force cannot afford to pull them out for special duties, Cody said.
On the aggregate, the Air Force has enough airmen to fill these special duty roles, and pulling the right airmen at the right time in their careers would be a “force multiplier,” he said.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean the airmen wanted to do it, but I promise you, 9.9 out of 10 of them will go there and do a great job if you send them, and a lot of them will get real charged up about the fact that we selected them to do it, because you always know how good you felt when somebody came up to you and said, ‘Hey, we think you’re this good to be able to do that,’ ” Cody said.
The fact that the Air Force is conducting the review does not mean it believes the airmen currently on special duty are a bad fit, Cody said in the email. Over the past decade, the service has struggled to make sure it has had a “deep enough bench” for special duties.
“Previously, we relied on the volunteer process, but that was set up for a bigger force,” he said. “As we become a smaller Air Force, the decisions we make about each individual airman become more critical. We have to ensure we’re selecting the right people at the right time for the right jobs.”
Many enlisted airmen see special duties as a career killer, but Cody said airmen who step outside their primary career field have a better chance of getting promoted. By having airmen nominated for these positions, special duties would be seen as a mark of distinction.
“Nominations also allow us to identify airmen who may not consider volunteering,” he said. “Some airmen may not consider leaving their functional area or may be too modest to see the potential their leadership can see in them. Building this ‘bench’ will give us a large pool of highly qualified airmen to fill these roles.”
The special duties review is expected to be finished by fall, Cody said.
Master sergeant boards
In the same vein, the Air Force will hold mock promotion boards in June for master sergeants to make sure it is promoting the right airmen, he said.
“We commissioned Rand to do the study to tell us — specifically with the senior NCOs, the master sergeants — if the process we are using to promote them was promoting the best people based on performance,” Cody said. “So they recommended to us we have a master sergeant promotion board.”
With everyone getting a 5, EPRs have become a nonfactor in deciding who the best people are to be promoted, he said. Air Force personnel officials will compare the results of the current master sergeant promotions process with the results of the mock master sergeant promotion boards. Then it will decide whether it makes sense to hold real promotion boards for master sergeants.
“But I am 100 percent confident every master sergeant sitting in this room today deserves to be a master sergeant in the United States Air Force,” Cody said. “And I don’t want anybody thinking who was just promoted to master sergeant, that we somehow think we got it wrong with you, because we don’t. But we do want to ensure we are promoting those with the highest potential.”
Each time Cody spoke to airmen, someone asked about tuition assistance, which the Air Force recently reinstated after suspending the program due to budget cuts. He reiterated the Air Force puts service above self.
“It’s what makes you so special,” Cody said. “It’s what makes us so different than everybody else. I know it’s what makes your parents proud of you. They’re really not that proud of you because you’re out using tuition assistance — they’re not. I mean, for most of them, they wouldn’t even know what that was.”
Cody stressed tuition assistance is a benefit, not a right. You may think tuition assistance was included in your contract, but “no such contract exists.”
“I appreciate the value of education, but if you can’t realize that you’re here to do something bigger than yourself, then you are going to struggle the entire time you put this uniform on,” he said.
The Air Force reinstated tuition assistance because the law said so, not because leaders believe doing so is the right decision in this fiscal environment, Cody said.
“If we have to make tough decisions, I expect each and every one of you to be a grown adult, look at the facts and stick with the team and move forward,” he said.
Despite the importance of the jobs airmen do every day, they need to keep some energy in reserve so they can spend quality time with their families, Cody said.
“What we have leveraged over the last 22 years — and certainly the last 12 years at war — from you and your families is unsustainable and it has had a collective impact on our Air Force family in ways that I’m not at all comfortable with and we have to get right with,” he said.
“When you look at the collective impact of what is happening in our Air Force — suicides, failed relationships, domestic violence, financial hardships, unprofessional relationships that in worst cases have led to sexual assault — if you look at that from where I stand, that is the collective impact of what happens to a force of great people who have been continually stressed over time.”
Under these circumstances, airmen need to know they can rely on each other to get through hard times, Cody said.
“We all need to know each other well enough so when you walk into the office today, I can look into your eyes and I know if today is a good day or a bad day,” he said. “If I can’t see in your face that it’s a good or a bad day, I don’t know you well enough.”
Fixing what ails the Air Force also means airmen cannot be throttled to the max all the time, so 16-hour days should not be the norm, Cody said. The Air Force is a job, and it doesn’t last forever.
“You better put your family first and foremost every single day,” he said. “If I were ever to ask you ‘What’s the priority in your life?’ you better not say it’s the Air Force.”■