By Airman 1st Class C. Todd Lopez
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (Jan. 29, 1999) -- The Air Force chief of staff visited here Jan. 22 to meet with troops and to field questions on several key issues affecting the Total Force.
During his visit, Gen. Michael E. Ryan addressed several topics, including retirement benefits, the 21st Century Air Force, and the mission of the Dover Air Force Base and it 36 C-5 Galaxy aircraft.
"One of the issues that arose, as part of the need to retain quality people, was the change in the retirement system that happened in 1986," said Ryan, during a media opportunity here. "We want to make sure that we return the retirement system to the 1986 level. This is people, after 20 years of service, where we sent them overseas multiple times, where they were separated from their families, where we've put them in harm's way, get the same retirement that the people got before 1986. And that is 50 percent, as opposed to the 40 percent they would be getting now."
Ryan said President Clinton supports the idea of returning retirement benefits to a pre-1986 level, allowing retirees to receive retirement pay equivalent to 50 percent of their active duty pay. Currently, the plan states retirees will receive retirement pay amounting to only 40 percent of active duty pay. The current plans affect those members who joined the service after October 1986.
While the changes in the retirement plan won't affect service members until 2006, the promise of less pay to retirees has consequences on the service today. According to Ryan, affected members and their families are making decisions today about whether they should leave the Air Force now, or stay until retirement.
Ryan also touched on methods of creating a more powerful and mission ready Air Force, for the 21st century. First, Ryan covered funding issues.
"We came forward and asked the administration for $5 billion a year more for the United States Air Force, because we need it," said Ryan. "Come look at our forces that we have deployed, at our forces stationed overseas. Then tell me we don't need to help those folks do their mission better."
In addition to funding issues, Ryan explained the concept of base "robusting" as a method of building a stronger, more mission ready Air Force.
"We have to 'robust' some of our bases," said Ryan, "to allow us to continue the operations tempo that we have, and have been experiencing over the last few years. As we respond to Bosnia's, southern Asia's and Iraq's, we have to go forward and bed down those temporary operating locations. We have to take the capability to do that forward with our existing bases. That leaves our bases back home thin."
"Part of robusting our bases has to do with putting about 5,000 more manpower slots into those bases that support forward rotations and forward security. The Air Force has too many infrastructures. Our forces are spread too thin around the United States, and we need to consolidate. Quite honestly, I believe we need several base closures, and we will not be able to do that unless we have a base closure and realignment act out of Congress," said Ryan. "We want to turn around the dips in readiness we have now; we need to make this Air Force ready for the 21st century."
Finally, Ryan discussed the current and future mission of Dover AFB, and the C-5 Galaxy aircraft.
"Dover is one of our hubs on the East Coast of the United States, and it is a critical airlift hub for our C-5 aircraft. There is a great synergism here between the active and reserve forces who together perform this mission," said Ryan. "It's a great base, a great bunch of folks, and a great community. The Air Force is proud to be able to serve here."
"The future role is that it's going to be around for another 40 years," said Ryan of the C-5 Galaxy aircraft. "It is an airplane with some unique capabilities that we don't have in the rest of the fleet. We will continue to work very hard on modernizing the C-5. We have avionics modernization and some reliability and maintainability capabilities we're going to put into the air- plane to raise its mission capabilities. In this bud-get we're presenting to congress this year, you'll find a substantial increase in funding for the C-5, to enhance it's capability."
Ryan testified Jan. 20 before the House Armed Services Committee. There, he requested an additional $5 billion a year, over the next six years, so the service could maintain mission readiness. The Department of Defense will release its budget Monday.