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History: avoiding the consequences of ignoring it

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Adrian Byers
  • 6th Operations Support Squadron commander
The Airmen of the 6th Operations Support Squadron know of my love for history--they get bits and pieces of it all the time, especially of our Air Force heritage. Being asked to write a small commentary afforded me the opportunity to talk to all who are in circulation of this wonderful publication. It is the perfect forum to express one's thoughts or concerns on matters affecting our Air Force today. With our current fiscal year coming to a close and further economic uncertainty ahead, I wanted to point out this is not the first time in our Nation's history, a downsizing of force has met deep impacting implications.

I am reminded of the cliché, history repeats itself and those who fail to remember this tend to suffer the consequences. So briefly, allow me to set the stage. Between the years 1914 - 1918, the United States military grew from 200,000 to over 4 million Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines. Subsequently, the signing of the Armistice in November 1918 sparked the demobilization of this newly acquired force. By Fiscal Year 1920, a vast number of Army Divisions were deactivated, and under the National Defense Act of 1920, the end strength of the United States Army was set to 280,000 only to be further reduced to 128,000 in 1921. The Navy cuts were just as dramatic. What I wanted to highlight here was the fact this was the last time our military faced such deep post-war cuts, as compared to the percentage of the pre-existing standing force. The demobilization efforts after World War II, Korea, and Vietnam do not compare to the cuts made after World War I.

Interestingly, the War Department realized a simple fact. As we drew down this military force, they needed to retain the best and brightest Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines. Though the build up of the military in the Great War meant increasing the size of the militias, the naval reserves etc., the core of each service increased exponentially as well. The efficiency of training brought the first troops to France in the summer of 1917--6 months after the United States declared war on Germany. At wars end, the War Department did not want to return to pre-war levels without keeping what it perceived as some of the best military men it had ever trained.

Today, we face similar consequences of a military drawdown and economic uncertainty. The Army of today will look nothing like the Army of tomorrow, as they seek balance in the face of fiscal constraint brought on by sequestration. The Navy and the Marine Corps face equally daunting challenges--modernization versus the question of end strength. Then there is our service, which must contend with the same question.

Just like our forbearers at the end of the Great War, we are faced with the need to keep the brightest and most capable Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines. In order to maintain the competitive edge, we must identify early our phenomenal officer and enlisted Airmen. We expect more from them and we hold them to far higher standards. Moreover, our Airmen must plan for their future based on a competitive landscape. As leaders, it is our responsibility to mentor and guide them through this journey. It will not be an easy road to navigate, but there are things we can emphasize.

For example, we should ensure our Airmen are taking advantage of all available education opportunities. From professional military education to civilian education, our Airmen must see the benefit to advancing their learning. Soon, an apparatus to assist with funding such a venture, Tuition Assistance, will meet with serious scrutiny. Any Airman with subpar performance will find it more difficult to compete should they have multiple fitness failures, referral performance reports, an Unfavorable Information File, or be on a Commander's Control Roster. The system will no longer support poor performance because the money simply is not there. Therefore, our Airmen should recognize their job performance will be even more influential in their standing as a member of our Air Force. We should encourage them to upgrade as soon as feasibly possible, and at times perform at levels above their current pay grade.

The quote from John Quincy Adams is most fitting, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." The times ahead will be just as challenging as the years of the past. As leaders, we must ensure our Airmen are prepared to meet those challenges to advance themselves, the Air Force, and the Nation.