JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Air Force’s top enlisted leader focused on the future force, the new enlisted evaluation system and professional development during the Air Force Sergeants Association Professional Airmen’s Conference here Tuesday.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody addressed an audience where he talked about the challenges of a smaller Air Force and the impact it is having and will have on its Airmen.
Cody emphasized that today and tomorrow’s Air Force will be the smallest, most globally engaged force in its history and that programs such as evaluations, promotions and professional education will need to evolve as the Air Force as a service evolves.
“If we’re going to develop leaders of the future, and ask them to do things that today we don’t even know have to be done, we have to evolve,” Cody said.
Cody believes that Airmen develop along a path much like the structure of a pyramid. “A pyramid has three sides. If we’re going to develop Airmen of the future, it’s important not to just measure Airmen functionally, not to just make sure they are exquisite at their job. They have to have greater breadth and depth in a professional force like this. You have to think about the development of special duties and how it builds an Airman in a different way.”
Cody said he believes the Air Force needs to look at how to manage Airmen as a human capital strategy, looking out for the needs of the Air Force, while continuing to purposefully nurture and grow its Airmen along the way.
“When you have a smaller force, you have to make sure the Airmen have the skill sets needed,” Cody said. “Maybe 10 years ago, this idea that (Airmen) would have a lot more say in what (they) would be doing for our Air Force was reasonable. We had enough people to allow for it, we had enough qualified people to do what we needed to do.
“When you get smaller, you can’t do that. You can’t allow yourself to fall short because the minute you fall short you’re creating that hole for everyone to catch up. If we need you to do something as a staff sergeant, we need you to do something as a staff sergeant. So that when you’re a master sergeant you’ll have the skills to do what our Air Force needs you to do.”
Cody said he believes that Airmen have to rethink about what their commitment to serve is about. “You can’t be solely functional. You can’t be so connected that when your Air Force asks you to do something else that you can’t be the most dedicated Airman and do what your nation expects.”
Cody said that the enlisted evaluation system today, from an execution standpoint and from a human factor, cannot be executed. That is why changes will be critical.
“For the first time, performance will count. Most of our Airmen are outstanding performers,” he said. “They exceed expectations. That doesn’t mean we’re going to promote all of them at the same time. That’s not possible. It never has been possible.
“We’re still going to promote the same number of people. This year there were 9,600 people selected for staff sergeant. If we had this new system in place, and we were getting ready to promote, guess how many people would get promoted – about 9,600. It would be the same amount of people it would just be a different group of people.
Cody also said that moving forward, the education Airmen receive will be really important.
“There’s been a study by the Department of Education, from kindergarten all the way through to PhD-level work, that says blended learning is the best way to learn. Use a mix of online with a mix of residence brings them a higher level of cognitive ability. We value both.”
Cody said the feedback he has received has been that the course is difficult, but feels that if Airmen aren’t pushing themselves, they’re not improving. “We’re looking to take you to the next level as leaders. We’ve already started to adjust curriculum at the NCO Academy. There will be every opportunity for Airmen to take the courses they need to meet their window of opportunity for promotion.”
But Cody made it clear that all Airmen have a role in, not only their careers, but in helping the Air Force grow and evolve in the years ahead.
“This has been the toughest time in my career, seeing Airmen who have done everything the Air Force has asked them to do, and we’ve had to look them in the eye and say ‘thank you but we’re unable to ask you to serve any longer.’ I wish it could be different, so do the SecAF and chief of staff.
“But at the end of the day, we’re here to do what our nation needs us to do. And there are only so many resources needed to do that mission. This is our Air Force. We’re in great shape, and the fact that we’re going to be the smallest Air Force in the history of the Air Force means we’re going to be more capable, more global, and make a difference in everybody’s lives. I cannot be more proud of our Airmen and what you do every day.”