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How airmen say the Air Force could save money

Aug. 25, 2014 - 08:28PM   |  
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Military members married to other military members should not both receive basic allowance for housing if they are living in the same house, Randy Marquart says.
Military members married to other military members should not both receive basic allowance for housing if they are living in the same house, Randy Marquart says. (Staff Sgt. Desiree Palacios/Air Force)
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Cut uniform costs by adopting the MultiCam or the Airman Battle Uniform, but not both, some airmen say. (Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane/Defense Department)
'As far as a 'paperless Air Force,' well, we have not arrived,' says Joseph Truttman. (Staff Sgt. Chad Strohmeyer)
Refueling aircraft comes at a price. So PCS some aircraft, says Ryan Pochop. (Airman 1st Class Timothy Young/Air Force)
Flight pay should go to young officers in the cockpit, says retired Chief Master Sergeant Sam McComas. (Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth/Air Force)

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The budget outlook for the Air Force — and the rest of the Defense Department — is nothing but grim: Sequestration. Grounded planes. Proposals to eliminate the A-10 and other fleets. Headquarters staffing and overseas facilities cutbacks. Proposals to limit raises and slash benefits. And the early exits of 20,000 airmen— with more to come — over the next year.

When Air Force and other defense leaders propose such cuts, objections come from all quarters — from troops in the field to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

What would airmen cut if the choices were theirs? Air Force Times asked readers to submit their own money-saving ideas. Here’s what they had to say:

ABU or MultiCam, not both

Senior Airman Thomas Westrick, Joint Base San Antonio, looked at his Airman Battle Uniform and MultiCam uniform and thought:Why do you need both?

Westrick said he got almost $1,000 worth of ABU gear as a new recruit but deployed soon after Basic Military Training, which required him to wear the MultiCam. “If the Air Force just issued the MultiCam and all that gear in the first place, we could have just saved some of that cost up front,” Westrick told Air Force Times.

James Woodford agreed. “ABUs are a freaking disaster. When people deploy they get a $3,000 box of new gear and uniforms, EVERY time they go down range,” he wrote on the Air Force Times Facebook page. “Pick a uniform that works at home AND down range and stick with it.”

Westrick said that the Air Force should “definitely join the Army in the new camo pattern” — for all airmen, not just those deployed — so both services can save by not having to maintain so many camo patterns. The Air Force will make the change to coincide with the Army’s plan, Air Force spokesman Maj. Matt Hasson told Air Force Times in June.

But all projects could still be put on hold — Congress, in the 2014 Defense Authorization Act, directed the Defense Department to rein in uniform spending and adopt a camouflage utility uniform or family of uniforms across all services.

Don't spend just to spend

“Units must be incentivized not to spend their entire budget every year,” Maj. Douglas Pietersma from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, wrote in an email to Air Force Times.

Pietersma is referring to end-of-fiscal-year spending sprees in which units spend rather than save because they know their budget will likely be cut if they have money left at the end of the fiscal year.

“The fear that next year’s budget will be cut if this year’s budget is not exhausted creates a great amount of waste. I have seen this in nearly every organization to which I have been assigned throughout my career,” he wrote.

Rebecca Cuevas Novak agreed. “Stop the ‘use it or lose it’ supply. I’ve seen a lot of wasteful spending just so the shop could keep getting that money for the future,” she wrote.

Retired Chief Master Sergeant Sam McComas said budgeting and planning should change to prevent the spending sprees. “If a unit did not use up their entire budget in a year, don’t penalize them by cutting their budget next year to that level,” McComas told Air Force Times.

If anything, units can turn back their excess money with the possibility of using it the following year, he said.

Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer said last year the Air Force needs to be more strategic in spending year-end overages.

Award flight pay selectively

Flight pay is unnecessary for those who “just sit in the seat once a month,” Joy Pickel Riggleman wrote in online comments at airforcetimes.com.

And McComas said flight pay should be re-evaluated for nonflying officers O-6 and above.

“These members are not doing any combat jobs, they’re not transporting materials. ... If they do fly, they’re only going up to get their hours just so they get their flight pay,” McComas said. “Why do bomb wing commanders and fighter wing commanders — in staff position jobs — need flight pay?” he asked.

Before bonuses or flight pay, a colonel with 12 years of service, for example, makes more than $85,000 a year. That money should go to young officers in the cockpit flying air refueling sorties, combat missions and transports, and not to colonels and above getting bonuses, McComas said.

PCS some aircraft

Moving, flying and refueling aircraft comes at a price. So PCS some aircraft, Ryan Pochop said.

“Stop flying C-130s across the pond,” he wrote on Facebook. “Station them where they need to be, and send the new crew via commercial or another military flight. It is hard enough keeping them flying due to age; why add more stress on them?”

The Air Force comptroller’s office highlighted last year how much it cost the Air Force to fly various aircraft for at least one hour between 2008 and 2012. Some examples:

■ B-2A Spirit stealth bomber: $169,313.

■ F-15C Eagle fighter: $41,921.

■ C-17 Globemaster cargo plane: $23,811.

■ F-16C Viper fighter: $22,514.

■ KC-10A Extender tanker: $21,170.

■ C-130J Hercules cargo plane: $14,014.

But what’s flying is being debated: The service intends under the fiscal 2015 budget proposal to slash aircraft inventory altogether, cutting 500 airplanes over the next five years.

Keep physicians as physicians

A 2009 Air Force report predicted the service would spend approximately $13.1 million over the six-year Future Years Defense Program outsourcing patients to the private sector. The same report said that, between January and March 2008, nearly 14,000 patient appointments went unfilled while more than 19,000 patients were referred to the private sector.

A 2013 report went further: Patient appointments decreased by 16 percent in the previous three years, while off-base care increased 20 percent in the previous five years, serving the Air Force a $1.7 billion bill in outsourced care.

One reason the care isn’t being provided by Air Force physicians is because experienced physicians have been shifted to administrative positions, said retired Col. Michael Menning, former director of the 711th Human Performance Wing’s Management Operations Directorate at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

“At most medical treatment facilities in the Air Force, there are physicians who are commanders and they spend 18 years in medicine, and then ... they’re selected for a command job, which is an administrative job,” Menning, who served in the Air Force Medical Service for 24 years, told Air Force Times. “But you get an 18-year physician with no experience in administration who’s now a commander, and then they rotate out in two years.” These physicians spend their first year learning new business training models, leaving them only one year to implement their business practices, he said.

The Air Force instead could keep physicians in clinical roles longer, and at the same time, promote other specialties like members of the biomedical services corps, the nurse corps, and the remaining medical corps to general officer positions and administrative roles.

“If you open those up to the most competent, successful, sharpest folks ... that could add up to billions of dollars of change,” Menning said.

Go digital

The Air Force wants more technologically savvy airmen. And airmen would rather do less paper-pushing.

The recent mishap at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, might make the best case: Promotion test answer sheets for 99 airmen were lost in the mail and were unavailable to be used in the most recent staff sergeant testing cycle.

“The Air Force still has bases snail-mailing things to the [Air Force Personnel Center] in 2014,” Joseph Truttman wrote in an airforcetimes.com comment regarding the lost tests. “I work in a Force Support Squadron; we buy tons of paper, envelopes, and printer cartridges each year. As far as a ‘paperless Air Force,’ well, we have not arrived.”

Airmen said they’d like to choose how they read or receive announcements.

“[When] I check my mail, we get the Command Post paper,’’ at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, Senior Airman Nathalia Martinez told Air Force Times in an email. “With technology nowadays, a lot of the important stories that I’m interested in, are on the Scott AFB Facebook Page. With that being said, I throw away my papers in the trash bin immediately (there are no recycle bins). When I go to throw it away, there are TONS of thrown away newspapers.”

Martinez said it would be better if airmen had the option of receiving the newspaper instead of printing them and having them dropped in bulk only to be thrown away.

The Air Force, meanwhile, is making efforts to go digital. Base libraries, for example, are enriching their digital systems. While some bases — such as Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Dyess Air Force Base, Texas; and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada — have closed their doors, they’ve worked to get airmen the access they need to get materials online.

Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, for example, partners with “Hoopla digital,” a service that works with libraries across North America to provide online and mobile access of thousands of movies, TV shows, videos, music and audiobooks.

And all airmen have access to the AF Portal digital library system, which features programs like OverDrive and Zinio Digital Magazines through which users can borrow reading material for their Nooks or Kindles.

Who needs a ceremony?

Last year when Air Force leaders put out a call to airmen for ideas on how to save money, Senior Master Sgt. Jason Eden responded with what he thought could save hundreds of thousands of dollars: End in-residence professional military education.

For 2012, almost 10,000 enlisted airmen and about 1,500 officers attended in-residence PME at a cost of about $6,300 per officer and between $4,500 to $5,150 per enlisted airman for travel and per diem, according to data provided by Air University.That adds up to at least $54 million.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody disagrees that is money not well spent. He has said that in-residence courses give airmen vital experience before they start their new jobs, although he also has said the Air Force needs a mix of distance learning and in-residence course.

But, aside from PME’s educational value, airmen say they don’t need the big celebration at the end of it all.

Thomas McGowan White recommended getting rid of all graduations, period.

And Chris Howell wrote on the Air Force Times Facebook page: “Instead of having dinners for PME graduation ceremonies, how about normal walk-across-the-stage ceremonies?”

With the walk, everybody can still attend the graduations, Howell said. “If walking across a stage is good enough for normal college graduates [who’ve] spent 4-plus years studying, walking across a stage should be good enough for PME graduates,” he said.

And the Air Force did that with Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy and NCO Academy graduations held banquet-style — the last was held in January 2012, said Air Education and Training Command spokeswoman Maj. Carla Gleason.

“We still have daytime graduations where students get diplomas minus the dinners,” said Chief Master Sgt Gerardo Tapia, Command Chief Master Sergeant of AETC.

However, the banquet dinners or lunches are still held for airmen graduating from Airman Leadership School at almost all bases, Tapia said.

The cost of a PME Airman Leadership School graduation ceremony, for example, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, averages about $6,000, base spokeswoman Aletha Frost said. Graduates and their guests pay for their meals, she said.

Catering at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for another example, has airmen paying $35 per person, base spokesman Jim Hart said.

Two ways to save on housing

When one military member is married to another military member, both receive basic allowance for housing. But why should both airmen receive BAH if they’re living in the same house, Randy Marquart asked.

“Stop paying married military to military dual BAH rates,” Marquart wrote in airforcetimes.com comments. “If married military to military occupy the same house/apartment, give the highest-ranking person the BAH and the other gets nothing. Why would the military think giving both BAH a good investment? Only give them both BAH if they are legally separated.”

BAH rates vary by geographic duty station, pay grade and dependency status. An O-5 stationed in the Pensacola, Florida, area, for example, receives $1,398 a month for BAH, according to the 2014 BAH rates. Even if the spouse ranks lower, the two bring in a monthly stipend of more than $2,500 per month. On zillow.com, rentals there range from $625 to $1,400 a month.

The Defense Department has no plans to change its policy on BAH for service members who are married to service members, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The military could save money by changing the policy on housing compensation for those on permanent change of station or temporary duty overseas, Scott Jansen said.

Stationed in Germany, Jansen said housing is more expensive for U.S. military, “and that is because local landlords know what the BAH is and set prices accordingly. There is no incentive for military to negotiate, when the military will pay up to BAH limits,” Jansen wrote in online comments. “In the states, I saved money on my housing by not using my full housing allowance. For overseas locations, the military could save a lot of money by implementing a policy that if rent is below BAH, the military and member will split the difference in savings below [overseas housing allowance] rate.”

Jansen said the Defense Department could test the idea at a few overseas bases to see the value of it being fully implemented.

Improve ideas processing

While airmen can submit cost saving ideas to their chain of command, they’re encouraged to use the new Airmen Powered by Innovation program, which forwards ideas to the Air Force Personnel Center.

But the problem, Westrick said, is that multiples of the same idea are submitted, and airmen can’t sift through what ideas their peers have already submitted.

“When I submitted my uniforms idea, I got a general email back telling me, ‘oh it’s already in the system,’ ” Westrick said. “There was no way for me to see that other people have submitted it, and it just became redundant.”

Aside from an open forum suggestion box — where airmen should be given the ability to add to an idea if they can — Westrick said there needs to be more formative action.

“What the White House has, for example, for their ideas everybody is able to see all the different suggestions [at whitehouse.gov], and ... it automatically generates a response if there are a certain number of signatures,” he said.

“The chief of staff or the chief master sergeant of the Air Force should have something similar.”

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