By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 17, 2005) -- The Air Force’s most senior enlisted Airmen testified Feb. 16 before the new House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on military quality of life and veterans’ affairs.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray discussed quality of life issues, including morale, housing privatization, the value of Department of Defense schools, deployments and weight allowance increases.
"The morale we have today is one of commitment and determination that I have not seen the likes of since I have been in the service," Chief Murray told legislators. "It is focused on the mission; it is not about having fun or the good times.”
Chief Murray said that commitment is driven in part by the support of the American public and much of the morale has been driven by the influx of patriotic Airmen who signed up for service after Sep. 11.
"There is a new energy coming into the force today, that is these young Americans -- since our nation was attacked -- who have chosen to join our military service," Chief Murray said. "Even when they see there are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines being killed or wounded, they are volunteering to serve their nation."
Chief Murray said the largest quality of life complaint was childcare followed by adequate housing. The Air Force has begun privatizing base housing at many stateside locations. The process involves private contractors building new homes on federal property. The homes can then be rented by military families using their basic allowance for housing. Chief Murray said the program is working well for Airmen.
"Where we have built the new homes, there is no question that our Airmen will live on the base, verses downtown, due to the quality of those homes," he said. "It is only where we have the inadequate housing that the Airmen will take their BAH and move downtown."
Congressmen asked the service chiefs about the importance of Department of Defense Dependant Schools. Chief Murray said his own children have been in many types of schools during his service, but that the DODDS system has provided for him the best option.
"(My children) have been overseas, they have been stateside, they have been in Department of Defense schools," he said. "They have been in the very best of schools across the nations, and have been in some of the very worst schools. But one of the things you are always guaranteed in DODDS schools is consistency."
Part of that consistency is a curriculum that matches up, grade by grade, across the DODDS system. Because of a standardized curriculum, students who are forced to move can expect to reenter a DOD school and pick up their studies where they left off. That consistency provides much needed stability to children.
Another key stability factor for families is to know when a military member is going to deploy. Chief Murray said the Air Expeditionary Force system continues to provide families with that predictability.
"Our AEF process is based on a 120-day deployment, in a 20-month cycle," Chief Murray said. "One of the things it does is provide predictability to the family. When you can tell a family when a member is going to deploy and when they are going to come home, then that is certainly something that de-stresses a lot of things for the family."
One quality of life issue the service chiefs raised in unison to legislators was increasing the weight allowances for permanent moves. Often, when military families make a permanent change of station, they are forced to eliminate some of their belongings due to the weight restrictions on government-funded moves.
"All you have to do is go into our housing areas and you will find things on the street that you would not normally get rid of, or that you would not give away,” said the Chief. "If you ask us very directly 'would you increase our weight allowance,' I would say yes we would."
Congressmen also asked about recruiting and retention. Chief Murray said while the Air Force has fallen short of its goal to retain as many as 75 percent of second term Airmen, the service is excelling in other areas.
"We are meeting our recruiting goals and our retention goals," the Chief said. "For first term Airmen, 55 percent is our goal. We are over 60 percent. For career Airmen our goal is 95 percent, we are right on that goal."
The subcommittee on military quality of life and veterans’ affairs is a recent addition to the House Appropriations Committee, said the subcommittee chairman, Rep. James T. Walsh of New York.
“(This) is not just an expanded military construction subcommittee,” said Chairman Walsh. “It was created to think more holistically about quality of life of military members and veterans.
“If we do our jobs, and we take our responsibilities seriously to make sure your people are well cared for and valued, and that worries of family and those responsibilities are taken care of, our (military members) will do a better job," he said. "They will be safer. They will hopefully sleep better at night. I think that is what this committee is really about.”