By BGen Andrea Tullos

When Chief Hartz and I visit our Defenders around the world, we ask our Defense Force Commanders and Chiefs, “what are your challenges?”   I expect to hear things like, we need more people, more training, and better vehicles. Sound familiar? I hear a few “Amens” out there. Interestingly, we came across an issue born out of the last few decades of overseas base closures, funding cuts, and policies that help facilitate family stability. We hear leaders concerned with how long their Airmen have been on station—NCOs with over a decade TOS, first term Airmen who spend their 6-year enlistment at one base, and even SNCOs with 15+ years on one base. The more we travelled, the more we learned it’s not an exception—at our CONUS bases, we find an unsettling lack of movement.

 First we asked “why.” For one, Air Force enlisted assignment policies allow an Airman to stay at a CONUS base indefinitely, absent a requirement for them to move elsewhere. Not only does this save precious dollars spent on “unnecessary” moves, it facilitates family stability by allowing spouses to pursue a career path in the local economy, allowing kids to stay in a stable learning environment, and it fosters other positive benefits such as continuity of medical care. Next, since the end of the Cold War we have significantly reduced our overseas footprint, which gives CONUS-based Airmen fewer voluntary overseas assignment options that historically drove PCS movements. For our Defenders, we’ve eliminated over 1,000 OCONUS billets – Clark AB in the Philippines, Howard AB in Panama, Rhein-Main AB in Germany, to name a few—and billets aside, those bases represent diverse operating environments that can’t be replicated in the CONUS. More on that later. Moreover, Airmen overseas can volunteer for consecutive overseas tours (COT). With “over water” PCS moves the most costly, approving COTs is a good deal for the Air Force. All these factors combined bring us to today, where we have a relatively stagnant force.

Well, so what? Who cares if a Defender spends their career at one base?   I would argue the mission effectiveness of our squadrons is a direct reflection of the quality of our career NCOs, who are the backbone of our defense force. We do them a disservice if we only give them one learning environment and by default, deny them important leadership and development opportunities. We rely on the innovation of our Airmen, yet we are only showing them one right way to do it, while there are many right ways out there. Some bases don’t have flightlines, or missile fields, other Service or coalition partners operating on them. An Airman assigned to the nuclear enterprise out of technical training may experience 3 nuclear surety inspections (NSI) during their initial enlistment, but an Airman assigned outside that enterprise won’t experience any. An Airman assigned to a “deployed in place” MAJCOM won’t attend a Regional Training Center and won’t deploy – our revised training policies will end that practice, but we currently have pockets of Airmen with no RTC attendance and no deployments. So how can we say we are preparing our Defenders to lead other Airmen in the diverse operating environments that span our Air Force when we aren’t deliberately developing them to do so?

The answer is we are going to start right now. We are implementing what is called breadth of experience assignment policy across the SF enterprise. This means if you are assigned to the nuclear enterprise, you can PCS out at your four-year point. In light of the rigor of that operating environment and the NSI schedule, four years is sufficient. For Defenders outside the nuclear enterprise, at 6-years TOS you will be subject to move based upon Air Force needs to facilitate moving Defenders out of the nuclear enterprise at their 4-year point. FE Warren AFB is our initial test base where we will implement the 4-year move process. Once we demonstrate success and learn from our initial round of moves, leadership at AF Global Strike Command and in the Pentagon will determine the timeline for moving the remainder of the nuclear enterprise with 4-years TOS.

To effectively defend our air bases and project our nation’s airpower, Defenders must be versatile. This means developing Defenders who have seen and experienced many paths to success, who are confident in their ability to shoot, move, and communicate in various operating environments, across a full spectrum of threats, while employing diverse skill sets. We want every Defender who achieves the rank of SNCO to have served in the nuclear enterprise, to deploy, and to serve overseas. We want all our Defenders to experience the goodness of our Regional Training Centers. We owe this to our Defenders and to our Air Force. So if you have been on station for more than 6 years, I encourage you to take control of your PCS destiny—update your dream sheet, talk to your SFM about what you want to do next and where you want to do it, talk to your family, and consider volunteering to move. You are the single most important ingredient in making our squadrons better, so help us stir the pot a bit by sharing your talents with your teammates at another base. Defensor Fortis!


#1 J2l3 2017-05-11 23:03
Thank you for the update Gen. Tullos! I have always felt this was an issue. I have been retired now for longer than I was in the Air Force, but I spent 15 years in the "Nuclear Enterprise" at three consecutive bases. The last, 8 years at Minot AFB in the missile field. In my opinion, much to long for anyone to grow in the career field.

Well done for recognizing this problem and taking positive steps to help our Defenders grow.

John Lynch, MSgt, Ret

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