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Congress hears testimony on manpower, recruiting

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 22, 2005) -- By the end of the year, the Air Force will have reduced its number of personnel to the congressionally mandated limit, said the service's deputy chief of staff for personnel during testimony on Capitol Hill on March 16.

While speaking before the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on personnel, Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady discussed end strength, as well as enlistment bonuses, retention, recruiting and recruit quality.

"We are on target to meet end strength by the end of fiscal 2005," General Brady said. "We will continue to bring balance to the force through right-sizing and shaping specific career specialties and overall officer and enlisted skill sets."

The general told lawmakers Air Force officials are using all tools available to help bring down the numbers. Some of those tools include career job reservations, retraining, Palace Chase and the Blue to Green program.

Palace Chase allows Airmen the option of separating from active duty early if they agree to serve in a Reserve position. The Blue to Green program allows Airmen to transition to the Army.

General Brady explained to committee members that the Air Force's primary tool for force shaping is retraining. Service officials are attempting to retrain as many Airmen as possible from career fields with overages to those that are stressed, he said.

Legislators asked personnel directors from all the services about enlistment bonuses and selective re-enlistment bonuses. They expressed concerns that the individuals who receive them could eventually interpret bonuses as a sort of entitlement.

General Brady explained the importance of bonuses, but said the service has started to limit the number of career fields that receive them.

"This is a dynamic world in the personnel business, and we have to remain competitive," he said. "We also have to make sure that this doesn't become an entitlements program, and if people in the Air Force think it is, then they have been steadily disabused of that notion recently."

In the last two years, the Air Force has gone from 44 career fields that get initial enlistment bonuses to only 12, the general said. Additionally, the service recently dropped the number of Air Force Specialty Codes that receive selective re-enlistment bonuses from 62 to 32. The reduction amounts to a savings of $132 million, he said.

Selective re-enlistment bonuses are used by the Air Force to help retain those people with skills that are highly desired in the civilian world. General Brady said the Air Force needs to retain the ability to adjust SRBs to keep Airmen in those critical fields despite the lure of the civilian job market.

"We have some critical skills we are short in," he said. "To remain competitive, we need the flexibility to respond rapidly so that we don't pay bonuses we don't need and we do pay those we do need."

The war on terrorism, officials said, has made it difficult, but not impossible, for some services to achieve their recruiting goals.

Because services have to work harder to meet those goals, some legislators said they fear the standards of quality for new recruits could be ignored and that there would be an impact on the types of individuals allowed into the ranks. General Brady said those fears are unfounded.

"We have not seen an impact at all," he said. "Our quality has remained high, and this year may be a little higher because we are recruiting for the toughest skills to get."