Throughout the next 60 days, senior Air Force leaders will re-examine the way ahead for the Air Force’s nuclear mission.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James addressed members of the Air Force Association Jan. 29, in Arlington, Va., giving an update on her recent visits to four Global Strike Command bases – F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., Minot AFB, N.D. and Barksdale AFB, La.
During her visits, James, along with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, met with Airmen in small focus groups and larger town halls.
“Early on, I knew I would want to visit our nuclear Airmen,” James said. “No mission is more important. Our Airmen are entrusted with the most powerful weapons on earth.”
James described her recent visits as insightful, coming away with seven key focus areas she and other senior leaders will assess over the next two months.
Tackling these areas over the next 60 days will provide the Air Force a way ahead, complete with an action plan, she said.
Focus areas include:
Systemic problems – “We do have a systemic problem,” James said. “The need for perfection has created way too much stress and fear about the future.”
James said Airmen who conduct the ICBM mission feel the system is overly “punitive” and there’s a level of micromanagement she feels “should be transformed to empowerment.”
Training vs. testing – “We may have lost within this team the important distinction between training and testing,” James said, in regards to the number of monthly tests missile officers have to pass to stay qualified.
“When you’re talking about the idea of training, it’s learning,” she said. “In this environment, everything was a test and perfect scores had become an important gauge, and in some cases the only gauge of allowing commanders to differentiate among Airmen. I think this is wrong. We need to address this. Instead of making the test 100 percent make it or break it … we need to look at the whole person concept … with tests being an element.”
Accountability – “We have to have accountability at all levels, and there will be,” James said. “We’re also looking at leadership.”
Career field development – “We have to look at profession and leadership development,” she said. “We need to look at training – we have to ask ourselves if these Airmen are getting the right leadership training; are they getting professional mentorship; what about their career path opportunities?
“We need to work to make this career field something young Airmen want to do, and aspire to do,” James said.
Core value campaign – “Airmen need to understand that being a good wingman does not mean protecting others that lack integrity,” James said. “Airmen have the responsibility not only to act with integrity … but also report the wrongdoing they see. We need to go back to some basics here.”
Career field incentives – “We need to examine the incentives, the accolades, the recognition that is available to the nuclear force,” she said. “We have to ask ourselves ‘Should we take steps to make this career field more attractive?’”
She said this includes both officer and enlisted, and that incentive pay and medals are being taken under consideration.
Investments – “We need to look into other types of investments,” James said. “We need to put our money where our mouth is,” which includes increasing manning levels and higher priority of military construction for Global Strike Command’s aging facilities.
While optimistic, the secretary said she firmly believes that with challenges comes opportunity.
“Continuing to strengthen our nuclear enterprise is a top priority for me,” James said. “This mission is essential to our security and the security of our allies and partners. It remains safe, secure and reliable. I’m very confident of that.”