During recent visits to Air Force bases across the nation, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy discussed issues ranging from AEF Next to resiliency to developing 21st century Airmen.
Air Force leaders must ensure future enlisted leaders are skilled in things like leadership and communication – the institutional competencies that are essential to any career, Roy said. Within this year, leaders are going to start transforming enlisted professional military education.
“The future is now,” he said.
Roy added that there are plans to reduce the average 10-year gap between Airman Leadership School and the NCO Academy.
“What we have found over the past few years is there’s a huge gap in our enlisted professional military education,” he said. “That time frame is very important for Airmen because that’s the time in which they find themselves supervising others.”
These issues led to the development of the evolution of enlisted professional military education, “EPME Next.” The goal of the program is to provide development at an earlier stage in an Airman’s career to better meet the Air Force mission requirements of the future, he said.
“We need to continue focusing on training and get as much as we can out of every dime we put into training and exercises,” the chief added. “We have to take advantage of every education opportunity because they are not going to be abundant. The experience pieces won’t be the same in the future and we have to continue to look at how we provide those experiences to our Airmen.”
He also stressed the important roles NCOs and senior NCOs play in shaping junior enlisted Airmen into future leaders, and said training is only one piece of that responsibility. One major issue on which leaders must focus is face-to-face communication. Airmen at all levels too often rely on electronic devices instead of talking face-to-face and engaging in analog communication with people.
“Our Airmen today are the most highly skilled, trained, equipped and educated we have ever had in Air Force history,” he said. “We are also the most technologically advanced Air Force in the world and have got to continue down that path.
“We just have to understand that nothing can replace face-to-face interaction when it comes to supervising Airmen,” he said. “Not now, and not in the future. … Supervisors ought to be engaged with the Airmen they supervise and know their stories.”
Communication and interpersonal skills are also vital to issues like resiliency. However, Air Force leaders have to be careful to not over use that term, Roy said.
“We don’t want it to be another program; we want it to be a culture,” he said.
Resiliency is about knowing how to work through a very difficult situation, growing through it and using the experience to help others, Roy said. The end-goal is for Airmen and their families to have the ability to work through difficult situations.
“The Air Force has to spend a lot of time and effort on this because people matter – and not just Airmen and service members – but their families as well,” the chief said. “Families have to be resilient; we have to keep providing those resources so they can be.”
Roy encouraged Airmen to maintain a resilient attitude, not only as Airmen but at home with family members. He said he believes equipping Airmen with the right coping skills could prevent suicide.
“We need to work through this,” he said. “Suicide is a problem because human life matters; that’s why we are so concerned about it. Airmen matter to us, their families matter to us and their lives certainly matter to their families.”
As part of developing resilient Airmen, the Air Force has made some changes to the air expeditionary force system. “AEF Next” will not change the entire system, but it will refine the current way the Air Force does deployments, Roy said. It will give Airmen the ability to communicate within the joint community and the ability to deploy with leaders and teams with whom they have trained.
While the Air Force is shaping to best meet its mission requirements, Roy emphasized a commitment to efficiently and effectively utilize the resources the Air Force does have. He said that the nation’s fiscal challenges will affect the Department of Defense.
“Some of the things that will certainly affect how we do things in the future are the budgets,” Roy said. “As our nation goes through its crisis and budgetary constraints, we are going to have to look at those tasks that we do and whether they have mission value. Does the mission really require that task to be done? If not, we really need to seriously examine how we do that task and look at the fact that some of the resources for developing Airmen may not be there.”
No matter what the future holds for the Air Force, Roy said he has faith that Airmen will continue to adhere to the service’s core values.
“It’s not about just knowing the core values, it’s about living them,” he said. “Our joint and coalition partners rely on us to give them the absolute best, and our Airmen are up to those challenges because we are a professional force and the best Air Force in the world.”