Morale: USAF Does The Unthinkable


November28, 2006: The U.S. Air Force is doing something really unusual, they are cutting back on the amenities that have long served to attract, and keep, the kind of skilled people they needed. It is feared that this move will have a serious negative effect on morale. However, the air force brass see this as the only alternative to something far worse; not enough new aircraft. Faced with huge costs for their new F-22 and F-35 warplanes, a Congress reluctant to be generous, and a war in Iraq and Afghanistan that is being largely fought by the army, the air force sees itself seriously short of cash in the next decade. The war in Iraq is taking money from the air force and diverting it to the army. Already underway is a downsizing that will eliminate 40,000 air force jobs over the next five years. But that will only save about $5 billion a year.

Cutting amenities is not something the air force even likes to talk about, but something official has to be said to explain the large number of fairly obvious changes coming. For decades, the air force has been the butt of jokes, for their more luxurious lifestyle, by sailors, soldiers and marines. Part of it was jealousy, and admiration for how the air force generals managed to get money for all those goodies out of Congress. Making fun of all those golf courses on air force bases was a particular favorite. Going into detail about the cutbacks would, simultaneously, make it known how extensive the amenities are, and elicit some bad publicity once people from the other services chimed in with snarky comments about how much better off the air force people are even after the cuts.

But the air force does have a real problem here, with the morale of their own troops. The 40,000 jobs being lost is causing some anxiety, as does the increased number of air force personnel being sent overseas to support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. There are actually several thousand air force support troops, on the ground in Iraq, helping the army move supplies and maintain equipment. These guys and girls are actually in greater danger than the pilots flying the bombers overhead, but that's another story. Meanwhile, a lot of the cutbacks will come from consolidating functions (fewer gyms and dining halls on some bases), as well as cutting back hours and services at other facilities (libraries, rec centers and golf courses.) There might even be a few golf courses closed...




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