Leadership, Compelling Mission Keep Air Force Strength High
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2004 Air Force leadership is struggling with a problem as the service celebrates its 57th birthday Sept. 18.
The Air Force has 20,000 more people than it's authorized. And as the service works to pare its numbers by 16,000 by the end of fiscal 2005, airmen and would-be airmen are standing in line to re-enlist or enlist.
"It's a fascinating problem for us," Air Force Secretary James G. Roche said during a joint interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service. "Where people might think that because we are at war, we might be having difficulty with recruiting and retention, we have the opposite problem."
Roche said he and other Air Force leaders "have to pinch ourselves" as they acknowledge the service's attraction to current and would-be airmen. "Our airmen are staying more than they have in the past, pilots are returning, and our recruiting numbers are so high that we are having to throttle it back in terms of not allowing as many to come on active duty," he said.
New recruits are increasingly being channeled into "stressed" career fields, those high-demand specialties that need more manpower, Roche said.
The Air Force's numbers problem boils down to the fact that the service has strong leaders who create a situation in which "airmen don't want to leave," the secretary said.
"I'm dealing with a problem, but I keep laughing because I am terribly proud of our airmen and the leadership of our first sergeants and our sergeants and our chiefs and our officers."
Compounding the situation, he said, is a strong emphasis on quality of life for airmen and their families -- from improved housing, to higher pay, to better education and family-support programs.
But Roche said he believes one of the most compelling reasons for joining and staying in the Air Force is the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the war on terror.
"One of the greatest motivating things for human beings is to recognize that others depend on him or her and that he or she is terribly, terribly important," Roche said. He said deploying to forward positions in the terror war -- something more airmen are doing in the Air Expeditionary Force -- drives home the point that "they are doing something very special for their country."
Airmen "feel very good about that -- and they should," Roche said. "It makes them walk a little taller wherever they are."