GRAND FORKS, N.D — In this time of sequestration, the Air Force must focus on its primary mission of being able to fight and win the nation’s wars, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, said here yesterday.
Family programs that support that mission will receive funding, but “nice-to-have” facilities will be dropped, Welsh said during an interview.
“We have added a lot of family programs over the last 10 years because we could afford to,” Welsh said. But the budget situation has changed, he said, and the Air Force needs to invest all possible money into its warfighting mission.
The Air Force has identified family programs that aid the warfighting mission and those will remain funded, Welsh said.
“We have already decided what our core support programs are in the Air Force and those will be funded: child and youth programs, health care for families, airmen and family readiness centers and so on,” he said. “We are not going to cut those things. We decided we would pick those core things and we would invest in them and we will maintain that.”
But there are other facilities on bases that will be cut. These include auto hobby chops, bowling alleys, golf courses and other facilities that are not self-supporting.
“These things have made our way of life a lot of fun for families and military members, but we cannot afford them any more,” he said.
Such facilities will “fall by the wayside,” the general said, and airmen and their families will have to rely on local communities and the opportunities available there.
This is not across the board. Overseas locations and some remote stateside bases don’t necessarily have communities with these facilities. The Air Force will continue to fund them in those places.
Welsh emphasized that it is going to take a few years to rebalance the Air Force internally.
“We will have to cut people, we will have to cut force structure until we can rebalance and create a ready force that is at the readiness levels we think we will need to be successful,” he said.
The most important thing the Air Force can do “is maintain the commitment, pride and loyalty of our airmen,” Welsh said.
“We’re not going to forget that,” he added. “We will solve all those concerns with them on board because they are brilliant. They are incredibly dedicated and capable. If we lose them we can’t do any of this.”
The chief of staff also said he’s concerned about how sequestration, furloughs and a government shutdown have affected the morale of Air Force civilian employees.
“Our civilian airmen are part of everything we do,” Welsh said. “In some areas they are the mission.”
There’s been no pay raise for federal government civilian employees — including those working for the Air Force — in the past three years, the general noted.
“And after three years of no pay raise, we rewarded them with a furlough and then we threw a government shutdown on top of that just to add insult to injury,” Welsh said. “It has been a very tough year for them and regaining their trust is important.”