After six months of command, Brig. Gen. Mike Rothstein, 56th Fighter Wing commander, provided feedback to Airmen at a commander’s call on how he assesses the wing’s performance so far. He highlighted both things that were going well and areas for improvement. He also discussed the planned relocation of two F-16 squadrons to Holloman AFB, N.M., F-35 arrival, sequestration impacts and the upcoming combined unit inspection.
Rothstein began by reminding Airmen that he expects them to be great at the mission, to develop leaders at all ranks across the wing, and to help create a sense of community with Airmen and their families, and with the local communities outside the gate.
“To be an effective military in a democracy such as ours, we need to have the trust, confidence and support of our local community and we each need to understand that every Airman represents the Air Force 24/7,” Rothstein said.
The general reiterated the core of Luke’s mission is to “train the world’s greatest F-16 fighter pilots.” He assessed that the wing is doing a very good job of that, not only in operations and maintenance, but in all the other installation support functions that come together to make the training mission successful.
The commander also expects the wing to work towards an excellent rating in the next combined unit inspection, which is scheduled for Oct. 21.
“We strive for excellence in all we do,” Rothstein said. “Put your time and effort into what’s core to your particular part of the mission, be compliant in all other areas and have no repeat write-ups.”
Rothstein talked about the future outlook on spending cuts and how Airmen can be more resourceful and cost conscious.
With sequestration, cuts are being made in temporary duties, flying hours and possible civilian furloughs, he said.
“TDYs are being cut unless it’s mission critical,” Rothstein said. “As for flying hours, Luke, for right now, is still on track. We will continue to train F-16 students, but additional flying hours for instructor proficiency beyond student sorties are severely curtailed. There is also the potential for civilian furloughs, though it has not yet been decided. We may have to ask civilians to take 14 days of unpaid leave in the foreseeable future.
“Besides doing well in our core mission to produce fighter pilots, we also are doing well with our nurse transition program, Airmen Against Drunk Driving program and our community support by volunteering more than 100,000 hours of service outside the gate,” he added.
Still, Rothstein pointed out there are areas for improvement.
To start, he provided troubling statistics on Airmen with medical readiness concerns.
“There are 387 Airmen on profile and another 180 with fixable medical readiness issues,” Rothstein said. “People need to start taking better care of themselves. Additionally, one in every 20 Airmen is failing the physical fitness test, and that shouldn’t be the case.”
Tobacco use is also a concern, he said.
“The Air Education and Training Command average is 15 percent for Airmen who use tobacco,” he said. “We have 22 percent. An increasing percent of defense dollars are going to personnel costs to include health care as a significant portion of that. We need healthy Airmen and future retirees so that we can preserve funding for things like flying hours, dorms or computer equipment rather than paying avoidable medical expenses.”
The general also touched on leadership improvement, timeliness of reports and NCOs who have been at Luke for more than six years.
“NCOs and officers need to give good feedback to their Airmen. We need to step up and tell our people not necessarily what they want to hear, but what they need to hear,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job of turning our performance reports and decorations in on time. We are too often late on those and it is unacceptable.”
Rothstein also expressed his concern about having far too many Senior NCOs and NCOs who have remained at Luke for too long.
“We need to focus on getting some of these leaders off to other assignments, not only for their professional development, but also to create room to get some fresh energy and ideas in here at Luke.”
Rothstein’s final topic was DUIs.
“We are going to flip the message and take down the sign at the gate that says the last time we had a DUI,” he said. “Instead, we are going to start highlighting some of the positives and less of the negatives. In the base paper we will be recognizing units that are going without DUIs and are doing it right.”
To illustrate his message, the general gave the floor to two Airmen convicted of driving under the influence.
The Airmen described making the initial choice to drink and drive then having to deal with the consequences. Those included thousands of dollars in court fees, loss of driving privileges, reduction of rank and pay and, most importantly, the loss of respect from family members, peers and their leaders.
Rothstein and Chief Master Sgt. David Staton, 56th FW command chief, then opened the floor to questions.
One Airman asked if there was an opportunity for maintainers to cross train into the F-35 program.
“It will be largely based upon what your Air Force Specialty Code currently is and what the Air Force needs are going to be, not necessarily who volunteers,” said Col. Victor Mora, 56th Maintenance Group commander. “If you’re interested, let your squadron commanders know so we can keep track of who wants to do it.”
Another question was raised about tuition assistance.
“TA is back, but if you had put money out during the couple of weeks where it was suspended, you won’t be reimbursed,” Rothstein said.
The general offered some final words before closing out each of the two commander’s calls.
“What’s critical to airpower is not our jets and equipment, it’s our people,” he said. “We are the best fighting force the world has ever known.
The true strength of that resides in the minds and bodies and hearts of our Airmen, not in our ‘stuff.’ Never lose sight of what airpower’s about.”