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Air Force avoiding Draconian measures while shaping force

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 11, 2004) -- The Air Force will try to avoid "adverse consequences" while reducing its end strength during the next few years.

During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on total force, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for personnel discussed the service's plans for force shaping. The Air Force is above its authorized end strength but will be smart in efforts to reduce its size, said Lt. Gen. Richard E. "Tex" Brown III.

"We need to be prudent in the speed and magnitude we use to make changes to avoid unintended adverse consequences," General Brown said. "As we carefully look at what each component brings to the fight, we are working to ensure the best capabilities are retained and nurtured."

There are currently more Airmen in the ranks than the 360,000 authorized by Congress. As Air Force officials work to reduce that number, they will try to avoid using the same force-reduction techniques used in the early 1970s and early 1990s after the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars -- measures they characterize as "Draconian."

"Draconian measures are things … where we did reduction in force, or … selective early retirement boards," General Brown said. "We told people they would retire. We reduced the force by putting them out before their time or their desires. We want to avoid that."

While the Air Force may be above its authorized end strength, there are career fields that are stressed -- meaning there simply are not enough Airmen doing certain jobs. One example of a stressed career field would be security forces. In other career fields, there are too many Airmen, General Brown said.

Airmen do retire and separate on their own accord, and that contributes to bringing down the total end strength. But instead of Air Force officials bringing in new Airmen to fill critically short career fields, they will fill those slots with Airmen already in the force.

"To be good stewards (of taxpayer money), we must get back to authorized end strength," General Brown said. "We don't want to use SERBs or RIFs to do that. So we are looking at some cross-training opportunities. We will take Airman that are in overage career fields and cross train them to career fields that are short. That is shaping our force, and we will try to do that in the next two years."

Another aspect of force shaping is the military-to-civilian conversion. As many as 4,700 jobs held by bluesuiters could be converted to civilian or contractor jobs during the next few years -- though the conversion rate might not be one-to-one. General Brown characterized the types of jobs targeted for conversion as "administrative" or "back-shop."

"Certainly places and agencies that are not warfighters, that are not going into the front, are candidates to become military-to-civilian conversions," General Brown said. "(That frees) more people to go into bluesuiter positions, and that's shaping the force."

Also discussed at the testimony were Airmen’s roles in Army “units of employment," sharing resources across the total force, and Army National Guard Soldiers guarding Air Force gates at stateside installations.