As the service downsized over the last 25 years, 15 of which have been spent at war, USAF “focused on tooth versus tail,” Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told Air Force Magazine. “We created a second order effect that maybe we didn’t fully anticipate … we took the tail out of the squadrons, instead of looking at the entire operational unit as tooth.” As the Air Force pulled personnel specialists, administrative support, life support airmen, and other “tail” functions from the squadrons, squadrons were left with unsupported “tooth”—operators who still had to perform all of those additional duties. Fixing this problem will take time, new organizational priorities, and additional airmen. Deploying to fewer bases than in years past helps, but Welsh says this alone will not solve the imbalances. The Air Force doesn’t have enough airmen to meet today’s requirements, let alone expanding future demands, and is looking to grow end strength by some 6,000 airmen next year. Today, front line operators such as maintainers, weapons loaders, security forces, navigators, and pilots are “having to do all that additional work, because the work doesn’t go away,” Welsh added. “And now they’re not focused on their primary duty, which is a frustration for airmen. I don’t blame them. It was a frustration for me when I was young. It’s a frustration for me now.” (See also: The Readiness Conundrum from the June issue of Air Force Magazine.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.