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Leaders look to slow growth of pay and benefits, thin 3- and 4-star ranks

Sep. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — The military services’ senior enlisted advisers are looking at how to slow the growth of pay and benefits, not cut them, said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody.

During the long war, the increases in military pay and benefits have been “exceptionally good” and they are just not sustainable in the long term, Cody said on Wednesday at a forum of Air Force senior leaders.

“Every piece of compensation is being discussed and looked at and we will likely come up with some decisions for the future as they get presented to the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and the SECDEF [defense secretary] to then further make recommendations, but we all have to appreciate, I think, certainly over the last decade, we have been well compensated,” Cody said on the last day of the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Md.

Earlier Wednesday, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld called for reining in pay and benefits amid the current fiscal crisis.

“While everyone here would agree that our magnificent men and women in uniform deserve more than the average bear, we simply cannot sustain our recent growth trajectory in pay and benefits and expect to preserve a properly sized, trained and equipped force,” Winnefeld said.

Faced with budget cuts that could last 10 years, the Air Force is getting smaller, and it’s not just enlisted airmen who are being forced to leave. The Air Force is looking at cutting both three- and four-star general positions, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. The positions to be eliminated have not yet been determined.

“We think we need to trim the top end of the general officer force just to keep it in a healthy progression so that we don’t have to accelerate time lines too quickly, for example, for someone to go from two-star to four-star because there’s nobody else qualified, and to do that, we need to balance the numbers of one- two- three- and four-stars,” Welsh said.

Air Force leaders hope to make a decision on which positions to eliminate at the next Corona Commanders Conference, he said.

Over the past 50 years, the Air Force has become smaller but the number of general officers has increased, Welsh said.

“If the two don’t align, that’s OK if the reasons that cause that make sense,” he said. “If they no longer make sense, we need to adjust.”

The Air Force had to ground combat squadrons this year due to the budget cuts, which could continue into fiscal 2014.

Gen. Mike Hostage, head of Air Combat Command, said he is worried that someone will ask him to send one of his airmen into battle who has not been properly trained, equipped or organized.

“My sacred promise to them is I will equip them, train then and make them ready and when they are fully ready, they will go and they will be the best,” Hostage said. “Someone’s going to ask me one of these days to send somebody and I’m going to have to say no, and that’s going to be very hard to do.

“But I believe that is the sacred trust that we all hold. We ask them to go into harm’s way, they need to be fully trained, fully equipped and ready to do it,” he said to applause from conference attendees.

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