CMSAF discusses ‘way ahead’ for Airmen

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By Rich Lamance, Air Force News Service / Published August 19, 2014


The Air Force’s top enlisted leader focused on retention, the new Airman’s evaluation system and the future of professional development during the Air Force Sergeants Association Professional Airmen’s Conference here Aug. 19.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody addressed an audience of Airmen, former enlisted and retired NCO members of the association where he talked about the fiscal challenges of a smaller Air Force and the impact it is having and will have on its Airmen.

Cody emphasized that today and tomorrow’s Air Force will need to do more with fewer people and that programs such as retention, evaluations, promotions and professional education will need to evolve as the Air Force as a service evolves.

“If we’re going to develop leaders of the future, and ask them to do things we don’t even know has to be done, we have to evolve,” said Cody.

“Everything we’ve done and everything we will do in the future has been on the backs of our Airmen.” But he added that for Airmen to be successful it’s crucial they evolve.

Cody believes that measuring and evolving Airmen is much like the structure of a pyramid. “A pyramid has three sides. If we’re going to develop Airmen of the future, it’s important not to just measure Airmen functionally, not to just make sure they are exquisite at their job, but they have to have greater breadth and depth in a professional force like this. You have to think about the development of special duties and how it builds an Airman in a different way.”

Cody believes the Air Force needs to look at how to manage Airmen as a human capital strategy, looking out for the needs of the Air Force, while continuing to nurture and grow its Airmen along the way.

“When you have less of a pool to go to, you have to make sure Airmen have the skillsets needed” said Cody. “Maybe when you came into our Air Force 10 years ago, this idea that you would have a lot more say of what you would be doing for our Air Force was reasonable. We had enough people to allow for it, we had enough qualified people to do what we needed to do.

“When you get smaller, you can’t do that. You can’t allow yourself to fall short because the minute you fall short you’re creating that hole for everyone to catch up. If we need to do something with you as a staff sergeant, we need to do something with you as a staff sergeant. So that when you’re a master sergeant you’ll have the skills to do what we need you to do.”

Cody believes that Airmen have to rethink about what their commitment to serve is about. “You can’t be solely functional. You can’t be so connected that when your Air Force asks you to do something else that you can’t be the most dedicated Airman and do what your nation expects.”

Cody said that if you take a look at the enlisted evaluation system today, from an execution standpoint and from a human factor, it cannot be executed. “For the first time, performance counts. Most of our Airmen are outstanding performers. They exceed expectations. That doesn’t mean we’re going to promote all of them at the same time. That’s not possible. It never has been possible. They can be great performers but it’s just not quite their time. So that’s where we’re going.

“We’re still going to promote the same number of people. This year there were 9,600 people selected for staff sergeant. If we had this new system in place, and we were getting ready to promote, guess how many people would get promoted – about 9,600. It would be the same amount of people it would just be a different group of people.

“This has to evolve. You’re the most educated, the most experienced, the most dedicated Airmen in the history of the world. And to not think we’re not going to move forward on how we evaluate you … We’re going to reevaluate the factors .We’re going to phase these things in to give Airmen time to adjust to it. We’re going to put performance first. You’ll know exactly what’s expected of you and if you don’t do it, you won’t progress.”

Cody talked about the difficulty wing command chiefs had evaluating Airmen who would not make the cut, at times getting emotional when very good Airmen ended at the bottom of the list. Some Airmen had as much as 15 years invested in the Air Force, but Cody explained that, when it came to the final cut, education became a determining factor.

“They were smart, good at their jobs, but didn’t do everything we told them to. They didn’t have their CCAF. We told them it was important. They would say ‘what can I do to change this?’ The answer – nothing. I’ve already sent this off to the board. If you’re great and you’re trying to be number one, there are a lot of people ahead of you. We need to think about that.”

Cody believes that what happened this year will happen to a small extent next year. “It depends on what the demands of the military as to whether or not this could happen next year. You can’t live in some fantasy world where reality doesn’t exist. Moving forward, it’s really important that we think about this educational piece.

“There’s been a study by the Department of Education, from kindergarten all the way through to PhD, level work, that says blended learning is the best way to learn. Use a mix of online with a mix of residence brings them a higher level of cognitive ability. We value both. We’ve already gotten there with the Senior NCO Academy.”

Cody said feedback has been that the course is difficult, but feels that if Airmen aren’t pushing themselves, they’re not improving. “We’re looking to take you to the next level as leaders. We’ve already started to adjust curriculum at the NCO academy. There will be every opportunity for Airmen to obtain residency for the courses they need to meet their window of opportunity for promotion.”

But Cody made it clear that All Airmen have a role in, not only their careers, but in helping the Air Force grow and evolve in the years ahead.

“Times ahead will be uncertain, and it will be Airmen just like you who will take us through that. This has been the toughest time in my career, seeing Airmen who have done everything the Air Force has asked them to do, and we’ve had to look them in the eye and say ‘thank you but we’re unable to ask you to serve any longer.’ I wish it could be different, so do the SecAF and chief of staff.

“But at the end of the day, we’re here to do what our nation needs us to do. And there are only so many resources needed to do that mission. This is our Air Force. We’re in great shape, and the fact that we’re going to be the smallest Air Force in the history of the Air Force means we’re going to be more capable, more global, and make a difference in everybody’s lives. I cannot be more proud of our Airmen and what you do every day.”

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