Reflections from the chief

The creation of a post 9/11 Air Force

Story by Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon

Where were you on 9/11?

I was the command chief at Columbus AFB, but I was on a trip when it happened. My first goal was to get back to the Airmen of the base.

What are the most significant impacts on the enlisted force since 9/11?

Our operations tempo has been very high since 9/11. We have Airmen who have been deployed numerous times, and those Airmen are very proud to serve their country. We also have about 180,000 others who are employed each and every day supporting the combatant commanders.  Some of these missions affecting the battle space include nuclear deterrence, space operations and RPA missions.

Today, we add a difficult economy to our struggle.  Although we will continue to face fiscal challenges, we look forward to the ingenuity of our Airmen to get the mission done in the face of these challenges. We are going to change, and we are going to look different when all is said and done.

How has Air Force culture changed over the past 10 years?

We are more involved in the Joint and Coalition fight than ever before, and have evolved into a more expeditionary force where officers, enlisted and civilians are proud to be called “Airmen.” We’ve also become an integrated Total Force where the active, Guard and Reserve are equal partners.

Today’s Airmen understand that we are a nation at war, and we have been for a long time. We understand that fitness is more than being able to pass a test; we must be physically, mentally, socially and spiritually ready for any challenge handed to us, and our Joint/Coalition partners count on our ability to do so. It’s a whole package, and we need to be strong in each area.

From your perspective as CMSAF, how have the challenges of the past decade brought about positive change in Airmen’s day-to-day lives?

Before 9/11, we couldn’t have imagined how integrated we would be with our sister services and partner nations. Today, we fully understand that because we fight together, we need to train and work together. We are building relationships with our Joint and Coalition partners by using our training and education opportunities that can be used when we join forces for missions.

We have evolved from a service that provided “in lieu of” forces to one where we are equal partners in Joint operations and the service of choice for agile combat support. We welcome this opportunity to join forces, and our Airmen have excelled in representing all that airpower can bring to the table.

How has increased use of Guard and Reserve Airmen alongside active duty Airmen (Total Force) and increased shared basing with sister service and coalition forces impacted the culture of the Air Force?

Today’s Guard and Reserve Airmen serve side-by-side with our Active Duty force and are a definite force multiplier.  In fact, Guard and Reserve units are integrated into every mission set and are actively engaged in current operations. They are integrated in many of our core functions such as aerial refueling, C-130 transport and medevac missions. We count on them to be equal partners with similar experiences, education and training.

I think as Airmen, we are proud of our culture and understand our sister services are proud of theirs as well. Joint basing has given us an opportunity to show this pride and at the same time respect for our sister service’s culture. Is it perfect? No, but we are working through some of those challenges, and I’m fully confident our military team will be successful.

What is on your radar for the next couple of years?

One of the biggest changes for the enlisted force is our focus on deliberate development. We need to ensure tomorrow’s Airmen are prepared for any challenge that may be coming their way. With us being the smallest Air Force we’ve ever been and the rapid advances in technology, we need to focus on giving our Airmen the right tools to fill the roles of the future. This is too important not to take seriously.

We must also continue to build resiliency among our Airmen and their families. We’ve made good progress with the newly launched Comprehensive Airman Fitness initiative. Our focus is to not only work through tough situations but to actually grow through them.

These areas help us to be ready for today’s fight and future missions. Training is essential for us to remain the finest Air Force in the world, and we must ensure that it is preserved through our budget challenges. Training helps us ensure that Airmen understand the standards they will be expected to comply with during day-to-day operations as well as on their off-duty time.

Finally, we will continue to emphasize our communication efforts with and appreciation of our families who support us and the sacrifices they endure when duty calls.

Where do you see the Air Force, especially in terms of the enlisted force, in 2021?

In 2021, I see our Air Force still being the finest in the world. I’m fully confident in the Airmen of today and tomorrow stepping up to the challenge. We will look different than we do today, and we will have new missions that we cannot even imagine right now. But, tomorrow’s Airmen will stand on the shoulders of those of today just as we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

What should the junior Airmen of today do to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead?

Airmen need to be the best Airman they can be in their current position. We need them to do their best with what they are given to accomplish today’s mission. Their primary focus should be on winning today’s fight and tackling today’s challenges.

All Airmen should seek opportunities for added experience, education and training. When they find these opportunities, they need to take them seriously. No one knows when the next challenge will call on these Airmen to show their added skills. We’ve made an investment in these Airmen and need to ensure it isn’t wasted by lack of commitment. Local, Joint and Coalition exercises are some of these opportunities.

We are counting on our senior leaders to focus on deliberately developing their Airmen.

How has our transformation to a warrior ethos really changed us?

We are fully engaged in today’s fight, and we are more prepared than we have ever been for the roles we are filling. By adding items to our training like combatives, we are teaching a new generation of Airmen something they may not have experienced before. This is important because when it comes down to it, our survival may be determined by a one-on-one engagement. The battle lines of the past have blurred, and anyone could be put into a situation where they may need to defend themselves.

Any additional words for today’s Airmen?

From my family to yours, thank you for your service and personal sacrifices. Your dedication and faithfulness to our nation inspires me. Yes, we have some challenges ahead, but I know that we’re going to be OK. We are the world’s finest Air Force today, and when all is said and done, we will continue to be. I’m honored to serve with you, and I’m committed to ensuring future generations of Airmen are ready to follow in your footsteps.

  • MSgt James M. Oliver

    I just wanted to ask a question regarding uniforms after seeing the Chief in the Army’s multicam uniform. Are we going to get our own flame retardent uniform for Airman that work outside the wire? I just returned from a year long tour in Afghanistan with the Army as part of an ADT. It took about four months for us to get our ABS-G’s, we worked outside the wire on a regular basis and had to wear the Army’s uniform until we got ours. Every day we caught grief over wearing the Army’s uniform and had to explain ourselves. Shortly after receiving our ABS-G’s the policy was changed to allow anyone deployed with the Army to wear thier uniform. The six of us that we’re part of the ADT liked wearing the ABS-G’s during cooler weather, they are heavier than ABU’s therefore they are hot. Not to mention we are proud to be in the Airforce and liked being being a little different than the Army, it also helped remind them we we’re Airforce. I just wanted to ask, thanks for your time.

    v/r

    James M. Oliver, MSgt, ANG

  • Gabriel Johnson

    Ditto on the MSgt’s question. I’m in Afghanistan right now and we had to beg, borrow, and steal for our ABS-G’s. But we are out on the OTW airfield nearly every day, and we sure stand out in our tiger stipe pattern…

    Gabriel C. Johnson, TSgt, USAF