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NEWS | Feb. 17, 2016

Wing commanders reflect on CSAF commander's call

628th Air Base Wing/Public Affairs

The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Mark Welsh III, recently held a conference in D.C. that brought together wing commanders from across the Air Force. Joint Base Charleston is privileged to host three different Air Force wings--the 315th Airlift Wing, 437th Airlift Wing and 628th Air Base Wing--meaning that we gained three times the usual perspective on this event.

To ensure that all Lowcountry Warriors could benefit from the conference, Col. Gregory Gilmour, 315 AW commander, Col. Johnny Lamontagne, 437 AW commander, and Col. Robert Lyman, 628 ABW commander, took time to answer questions about the CSAF Commanders' Call. Here is what they had to say:

Q1) In these difficult fiscal times, money is on everyone's mind. Can you share any highlights from the "budget update" portion of the CSAF Commander's Call?

(Col. Lyman) Fiscal challenges are going to continue to be with us for a number of years. We will have to continue to effectively and responsibly manage the nation's resources to accomplish as many of our missions as possible. With that in mind, the installation support business is going to continue to be a challenging one. Our Air Force has accepted some risk in the coming years in this mission area - meaning we've made the conscious decision to fund certain aircraft systems and operational missions at a higher rate. That means we'll be funded mainly to repair infrastructure that breaks, rather than be proactive in our sustainment. We'll still have the ability to put forward our most compelling projects for funding to keep our missions going. Out biggest challenge will be to ensure we highlight which infrastructure is critical to our Joint Base Charleston missions - things like runways, wharfs and piers, or simulator and training infrastructure - and ensure that gets prioritized.

Q2) Many people are talking about proposed changes in areas like retirement plans and maternity/paternity leave. Did the conference touch on any of these?

(Col. Lamontagne) Gen Welsh discussed extending maternity and paternity leave. Those extensions were just recently approved; maternity leave is extended to 12 weeks and paternity leave is extended to 14 days. We also discussed the new retirement system which will benefit most military members beginning 1 January 2018. Under the current system, 83% of the military leaves the service before 20 years without any retirement benefit. With the new blended retirement system, both the 83% who separate before 20 years, as well as those who retire after 20 years, can receive automatic and matching TSP contributions, mid-career compensation incentives, plus a monthly annuity for life. This will allow everyone to leave the service with some significant retirement savings regardless of when they leave the service.

Everyone, whether or not they choose to contribute, will receive a DoD auto contribution to their TSP of 1% of their basic pay beginning after only 60 days of service. Then, after three years of service through 26 years of service, have the option of contributing up to 5% and receive matching contributions. There is no matching after 5% but members can still contribute up to the TSP contribution limits.
Additionally, after 12 years of service, members will receive a cash payment if they choose to stay in uniform for 4 more years. And for members completing 20 years of service, they will receive an annuity based on years served and base pay.

Q3) Col Gilmour, as the commander of a Reserve unit, your Airmen have
different backgrounds and perspectives than most of their Active Duty counterparts. Did you take anything away from the conference that might have particular interest to 315 AW members?

The Reserve absolutely comes to the table with different backgrounds; that is what makes us unique. But, every component has their strengths. The big difference is most Reservists have had prior active duty service, whereas the active duty does not have prior Reserve service. This means that the Reserve bring years of experience and expertise to the table. The CSAF pointed out that we need to leverage the experience of the Air Reserve Component. He pointed out that the Air Force is not going to get bigger, meaning that the ARC will need to be used more often. So, the bottom line is that the Air Force wins with the ARC because we bring experience that the AD does not have and we have a deep pool of talent that is more cost effective.

Q4) The conference featured multiple "break out" sessions covering subjects future cyber operations, and the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) program. Can you summarize updates from your respective sessions?

(Col. Lyman) The Cyber breakout session updated commanders on efforts to bring cyber defense capabilities to base level wings. This will both give base level cyber support operators additional capabilities to more actively remediate vulnerabilities, and also give our operational commanders additional perspective on how we can leverage and integrate cyber capabilities into our air and space missions. This is still developing, but it has the potential to decentralize the cyber impact Airmen can have on joint operations.

(Col. Lamontagne) The Remotely Pilot Aircraft (RPA) breakout session addressed bringing enlisted pilots into the RPA community. They will start with a few enlisted pilots each year who will operate the Global Hawk. I think many have forgotten that we used to have enlisted pilots, so it's great to see the Air Force return to the concept. Although it hasn't been determined, I think there is strong potential for enlisted pilots to branch out into other RPA platforms in the future as well.

Q5) Recently, the Air Force began its new enlisted performance program, with revamped performance reports and promotions boards. This subject came up during the conference. Can you share any perspective?

(Col. Lamontagne) Although this is an emotional topic for many, the concept is pretty simple--to recognize and reward our best performers and give them a promotion advantage. The previous enlisted evaluation system essentially masked our very best performers because most people got the same ratings (firewall 5). The new enlisted evaluation system removed that mask for our best performers. Gen Welsh addressed some of the impacts from the most recent Master Sergeant board which included:

- The average time in service for those selected to Master Sergeant fell by approximately 12 months--people got promoted earlier, which is a good thing.

- The average time in grade for those selected fell by approximately four months--again people were promoted a little earlier on average.

- They expect the promotion rate to stabilize at about 17% and for the average time-in-grade and time-in-service to continue to decrease as the points for time-in-grade and time-in-service are phased out over the next two years.

Overall I think these results are a good thing for our Airmen. We've got some young, promotion eligible members that are knocking the mission out of the park. The new enlisted evaluation system is designed to reward them for their efforts.

Q6) April marks a key month for Air Force units at JB Charleston: the "capstone" of our Unit Effectiveness Inspection. One of the conference sessions concerned the subject of ethics and, in particular, the Inspector General program. Did any of it pertain to our on-gong inspection efforts and the upcoming capstone event?

(Col. Lyman) Every discussion of the Air Force Inspection System stressed the importance of units "embracing the red" to highlight and document where we have challenges meeting mission standards. Given that data, commanders can make informed decisions about where to allocate scarce resources, whether that be money or Airmen's time, and where to accept some operational risk. The baseline of the system really is workcenters giving unfiltered, factual information in their assessments. The sessions also stressed the authority wing commanders have to document areas where we don't have the resources available to meet certain requirements. We have an obligation to fully document those, and we can expect our non-compliance to be highlighted during Capstone events, but we also have the flexibility to accept that not all requirements are created equal - and we are going to focus our resources and time on the ones that are most important. Doing that well has to start in our workcenters, and their willingness to "embrace the red."

Q7) It's hard to summarize an event like the CSAF Commander's Call in a few questions. Do you have any final insights you'd like to share?

(Col. Gilmour) The meeting with the CSAF was full of strategic insight as to where the Air Force is and where it's going. It helps wing level leadership to articulate the big AF strategic goals when you hear directly from the policy makers. The one thing that I thought was interesting was the comments by the CSAF about social media. He made a point on several issues where social media was misrepresenting facts. So his bottom line is: don't let social media be your sole source of information because most of the time only a partial story is being told.