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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James deliver their State of the Air Force message during a Pentagon press conference July 30. (Scott M. Ash/Air Force)
The Air Force should create a way for airmen to leave the service, gather real-world experience and then bring that back into the Air Force without being punished for it, according to the service’s 30-year plan unveiled July 30.
“Breaks in service — or transitions between full-time and part-time — need not be punitive in the advancement of our future airmen. Rather, the experience they gain during their time out of uniform should be recognized for the broader perspective it delivers,” according to “America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future,” a 22-page document that is part of a strategic overview ordered by Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. “Similarly, we must commit to a career development model that provides those in specialized career fields with incentives and promotion opportunities on par with those in more mainstream disciplines.”
This plan is beginning to take shape, with the Wednesday announcement that up to 40 active-duty and reserve airmen will be able to take between one and three years out of uniform to focus on other professional pursuits.
The service also is reviewing its missions to see what can be moved into the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
The move will cut the costs of operating units, and encourage more airmen to leave active duty and move to the reserve component. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in unveiling the strategic plan.
“Of course we don’t know how that will turn out, but I would expect that out of that, we will come up with additional missions, additional capabilities, that we would ask our Guard and Reserve to assume in the future, and so I see the future of our people program to be more reliant, not less reliant, on our National Guard and Reserve,” James said.
This move was a big push by the congressionally mandated National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. In its January report to Congress and the president, the commission urged the Air Force to provide more freedom to airmen to move across components.
These transitions for airmen to not be punished, but instead be rewarded, are needed because “the experience they gain during their time out of uniform should be recognized for the broader perspective it delivers,” the Air Force said in its new plan.
Additionally, the Air Force needs to change its career development model to give certain specialized career fields incentives and promotion opportunities similar to industry’s.
The plan comes as the Air Force is in the middle of large-scale cuts. The current budget proposal calls for the total end strength of active duty to drop from 330,000 this year to 307,000 next year, Welsh said. So far this year, the Air Force has approved 13,400 voluntary separations and more than 6,000 involuntary separations.
“As we promised our airmen, we have done and are doing everything we can to maximize voluntary separation programs prior to implementing involuntary measures, but that won’t make it any easier for those chosen under the involuntary process,” Welsh said.