Air Force Working to Combat Stressors
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 17, 2004 The global war on terrorism is placing many stresses on the U.S. Air Force, but the servicemembers are responding well to those stresses and the leadership is working to alleviate them.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray -- the service's highest- ranking enlisted person -- said there are more than 29,000 airmen deployed around the world today.
Air Force productivity rates are the highest they have ever been, the chief said in a Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service interview for the Air Force's 57th birthday on Sept. 18.
Yet, stress happens. The Air Force is a critical member of the joint military team, Murray said. In addition to the normal stresses of maintaining aircraft and all the other operations entailed in arming them, manning them and putting them in the air, the United States is at war. Aircrews are facing the enemy in Southwest Asia. Other aircrews are hauling critical supplies to the war fronts. Still other aircrews are maintaining vigilance in the homeland.
The Air Force is also working as a member of the joint military team in many non-traditional ways, Murray said. More than 2,000 airmen, for example, are working in Army taskings in Southwest Asia. Air Force truck drivers and military police are convoying supplies into Iraq. Air Force engineers are working hand-in-glove with their Army and Navy compatriots. And air operations around the world are not only completely joint, but are also flown with allies.
These missions not only place stresses on the airmen involved, but also the families at home. Air Force leaders are working to stay ahead of any problems the stressors might create.
Other changes that also cause stress are more mundane. The Air Force is fielding a new uniform. The service is changing its physical-training requirements. And the Air Force is shaping itself as it faces the new challenges of the 21st century. "As we change our culture, that creates some stress in our force today," Murray said.
The Air Force is trimming down and reshaping the force. Some airmen have to retrain into other Air Force specialties in order to stay in the service. "There's some unpredictability out there," Murray said. "Those all contribute to the stress today that has given us some indicators, like an increased suicide rate, that has us alarmed."
The Air Force is confronting these stressors head on. Murray said that "face- to-face leadership" by young sergeants is key to helping airmen. "This operations tempo is not going to subside any time soon," he said. "It must be that we continue to look for ways to cope with it, because that's what's given to us on our watch.
"We take that, try to understand it, we take and make sure we communicate with our people and get to the point where we do not fail to care for each and every airmen we have."
The chief said the service is looking at the basics. The service was a groundbreaker in efforts to prevent suicide and plans to re-examine its suicide-prevention program to see that it still meets the needs of the Air Force. If it does not, the service will change it so it does, Murray said.
The same is true of efforts to bolster military family members, daycare offerings and quality-of-life initiatives for single airmen and those deployed overseas.
"We're looking back to basics in training," he said "Next month we'll have our 20th basic training review. We ask ourselves, 'What is required of today's force? Does our basic military training meet those needs?' (and) take that through technical training and the operations as we move our airmen into the force."
The chief said the service wants to ensure support programs are well-grounded. "It's not creating new programs," he said. "We are so good at what we do. Our airmen are incredible in the way that they focus themselves on the mission and capabilities that they have. We do look after our people well, but at the same time, we can't rest on that. We must continue to look for ways to be better."
Murray said the Air Force today is the best he has seen since he joined the service in 1977. "What drives a young man or woman from America to come and volunteer and serve today in a time of war?" he asked. "I see a commitment out of our airmen today that is just incredible. Some are saying this is the new 'greatest generation.' History will decide that. I'll tell you I see a commitment out of our airmen today that is unlike it was when I came into the service, and it's great to see."