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New personnel chief: Know your options under force cuts

Dec. 31, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Cox interview MWM 20131231
Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox is the new deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox takes the reins as the Air Force’s newest personnel chief at a tumultuous time.

The across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester are squeezing the service, and have forced it to announce the most sweeping force reduction plans since the end of the Cold War. Beyond staffing levels, everything from promotion rates to base amenities could be bitten by the sequester.

Cox, who in December became deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said one of his top priorities is to make sure airmen have all the information they need to navigate through these challenges.

“As you can imagine, there’s a significant amount of turmoil that exists out in the force,” Cox said during a Dec. 31 interview in his Pentagon office. “We want to make sure that airmen — officer, enlisted and civilian — understand what options they have that are out there [and] are fully informed, across the board.”

Airmen need to start preparing right away for the potential voluntary and involuntary cuts, Cox said. Airmen need to talk to their commanders to find out what voluntary retirement or separation programs they could be eligible for — or if they could be caught up in involuntary programs. And airmen must make sure their records are up to date, he said.

“The records you have in the system are what will be judged when it comes time for any kind of decisions on whether or not you get to do the voluntary separation or you are involuntarily separated,” Cox said.

He also advised airmen to continue to seek education opportunities and otherwise improve themselves to “make yourself a more valuable team member.”

Cox’s goal is to make sure that “in the end, when we pop out the other side of this, we have a force that’s capable and ready to support the core missions of the United States Air Force.”

In September, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told Congress that the Air Force could be forced to cut up to 25,000 airmen over the next five years if the sequester continues. Congress granted the Defense Department some sequester relief as part of the 2014 budget it passed in December.

Cox said the Air Force doesn’t yet know whether the sequester relief will allow it to cut fewer airmen. He said the Office of the Secretary of Defense is expected to issue fiscal guidance sometime in the next few weeks, after which it will take the Air Force some time to analyze and possibly revise its plans to cut airmen.

The force reductions will also mean the Air Force will bring on fewer officers, and offer slightly fewer promotion opportunities for both officers and enlisted airmen, he said.

“We’ll match the promotion opportunities to the force size that we need,” Cox said. “We don’t [want to] have a list that’s so big that it’s going to take two years to pin on those individuals.”

Cox replaces Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones, who is retiring.

Cox was previously director of operations and plans for the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., where he was in charge of directing force deployments and distributing supplies and equipment for Defense operations around the world. During Cox’s time at TRANSCOM, Pakistan closed NATO supply routes to Afghanistan to protest an airstrike that killed Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. Cox said that underscored how important it is for the military to maintain a diverse slate of options at all times, such as maintaining multiple surface routes or options to airlift forces or equipment.

Similarly, he said, the Air Force needs to maintain a wide number of force shaping options to trim in the right places while maintaining airmen in crucial areas.

“If we only had one program, [such as] a retention board, that’s probably not the best way to do it,” Cox said. “But instead, if we have the temporary early retirement authority option, we can offer that, or a variety of programs, there’s a lot of different things that are on the plate to properly shape the force.”

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