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Exclusive: Interview with NCSAF Chairman Dennis McCarthy

Posted By Reserve Officers Association, Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Updated: Friday, May 13, 2016

In his letter to the President and the ranking members of the Armed Services Committees in Congress, Dennis McCarthy, Chairman of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force praised the "open and inclusive process" that led to his commission's 42 reccomendations for the future of the Air Force. Continuing this transparent process, Chairman McCarthy granted an exclusive interview to ROA, and speaking candidly on the process, the conclusions and the future of the Reserve community that weighed so heavily in his commission's final report.

National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force (NCSAF) has released their report regarding the future force structure of the Air Force. The eight commissioners examined areas of divide concerning the active, Guard and Reserve Components in the nine-month study. In total, the report contains a list of 42 recommendations for the president and members of the House Armed Services Committee to consider.

he National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force (NCSAF) has released their report regarding the future force structure of the Air Force. The eight commissioners examined areas of divide concerning the active, Guard and Reserve Components in the nine-month study. In total, the report contains a list of 42 recommendations for the president and members of the House Armed Services Committee to consider.

Q: What were your main tasks as you stood up as a National Commission? Where did you go and what did you do?

A: The Commission decided as a whole to be as transparent as possible and to hear from as many stakeholders as possible. That included expertise from the business world and academia as well as from other DOD agencies and the Combatant Commanders. We also wanted to reach out to Governors for their input, and we determined that we would not limit ourselves to the Air Force’s senior leaders but hear from personnel at all ranks, including newly enlisted Airmen, NCO supervisors, junior officers, and squadron and wing commanders.

This meant getting outside the Beltway. Our second public hearing was in Greenville, S.C., to coincide with a meeting of the Adjutants General Association. We also visited a total of 12 in-stallations around the country.

Q:  How did you accomplish those tasks? How did you get the information, testimony, feedback to write your report?

A: There were the normal channels of information gathering for a commission of this sort: the public hearings with invited testimony and public oral comments, a total of 154 individuals, some of whom testified more than once; the public comments, of which we received 256 at the time the report was written; and requests for information from the Air Force and other DOD agencies. We received thousands of pages of documents that we reviewed.

But we also knew that to hear what Airmen are really thinking, we needed to meet them in their own work and living spaces. On our site visits we scheduled breakfasts or lunches during which individual Commissioners ate and talked with young Airmen from all three components. And in addition to attending mission briefings, we toured the mission facilities, listening to the people working there. 

Q: We know your Report has a number of recommendations. Tell us first what primary conclusions led you to those recommendation?

A: First, all three components of the Air Force are filled with dedicated, skilled men and women eager to serve. We need to make the most of that talent pool. Second, the situation that led to the formation of the Commission was disagreement over allocation of limited resources in a budget-constricted environment. In the current political climate we could reasonably assume that today's budget is very likely our fiscal ceiling. However, we felt strongly that budget con-straints should not constrain readiness. Third, with the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, we could predict that the pace and scope of operations would probably decrease to some degree over the next few years. However, you cannot count on that because there are hot spots simmering all over the globe that could explode into the next conflict involving U.S. forces. Additionally, the Air Force has been engaged in combat operations continuously since 1990, with enforcement of no-fly zones over Iraq between the two wars there, and it is the Air Force that is likely to be engaged first in future surges: witness the use of U.S. air power in Libya in 2011.

Then, on our site visits and as we listened to Airmen and senior leaders, we learned that the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard are not used to their full capacity. In more than ten years of war, they have performed exceptionally well every task, every mission asked of them. But we could ask more: just about every person told us of untapped potential in the Reserve Components. We did consider the possibility that this was just the talk of confidence and desire to do more, but because it was so unanimous and came from all levels, we had to take it seriously.

Q: What were the Report’s main recommendations pertaining to the mix of the Air Force’s Active, Reserve and National Guard components?

A: Since there is untapped potential in the Air Reserve Components, we need to set a number of conditions that allow the Air Force to use it on a sustainable, periodic, rotational basis that serves several purposes. It helps maintain readiness standards among the Reserve Components. It relieves stress on the Active Component. Using a part-time force of traditional Reservists and Guardsmen costs less, freeing up money now going to personnel accounts to be put toward modernization and recapitalization. And you still have the capability and capacity to surge.

So, we recommend that the Air Force not reduce overall end strength to meet budget demands but rather move some of that end strength from the Active to the Reserve Component and ex-pand use of part-time Reservists and Guardsmen in day-to-day operations. We recommended greater integration of units and proportional fielding of new equipment. We recommended law and policy changes that contribute to a “continuum of service” for Airmen of all components.

We recognized that some missions need to be done by full-time Active Airmen, but no mission set or core function need be 100 percent Active. The ICBM mission set is one example, where Guard and Reserve units could take part in force protection and helo support. Space involves 24-hour manning, so why couldn't Reserve Component Airmen take some of those shifts? There are other missions that lend themselves particularly to the Reserve Component, such as Cyber where the Air Force can tap into civilian expertise through recruiting cyber specialists to serve in the Guard and Reserve.

Q: How did/do the differences between T10 and T32 effect how we organize our AF and your recommendations?

A: You can't look at force structure without looking at force management, and that takes you di-rectly to Title 10 and Title 32.  And because both Title 10 and Title 32 are mutually but distinctly important, you have to build a force incorporating both, and that's why continuum of service is so important. We recommended that both the Congress and the Air Force re-examine these statutes to see how they can be relevant and useful to an integrated Total Air Force, and still retain their original intent.  

In the singular form of federalism our nation uses, the Governors have authority over their state's National Guard. It is essential in the wake of natural disasters or similar emergency re-sponse that the Governor have direct access to and control of their Guard forces. It is also a fundamental tenet of this nation that the federal armed forces should not become a domestic police force. These two principles are at the root of the differentiation between Title 10 and Title 32. Integration is still workable under these parameters, and, in fact, the evolution of Dual Status Commanders who operate under both Titles 10 and 32 shows tremendous potential for dual use of forces.

Part of our Congressional charter was to look at the Homeland Defense mission, and we rec-ommend that the Air Force give greater visibility to that mission within its established corpo-rate structure.  We also recommended that DOD re-examine some of its practices with regard to collaboration with its Council of Governors.  It was clear to us that overall DOD response in support of civil authorities has improved over the past decade, but we found there were still some communications gaps that need to be closed.
The away game is also the home game now because many of our adversaries will not fight us by conventional means overseas but attack us at home. There was discussion over the course of the Commission's work related to whether some missions would be particularly suited to the Guard as a homeland defense force while others are clearly global reach more suited to a feder-al force. But, truly, we need a Total Force both home and away. And the more integrated that force can be while maintaining the basic tenets of Title 10 and Title 32, the better.

It's more important to break down the other legal and administrative barriers that hinder the federal mission from accessing the Guard and that hinder the state mission from accessing fed-eral assets. We also need to allow easier flow of Airmen among the components, back and forth, and using their skills in smarter ways. For example, the policy that Guard Airmen cannot be used as instructor pilots for Active forces puts an artificial and unnecessary restriction on force management. Why not allow a pilot after a 10-, 15-, or 20-year Active career transition to the Reserve or Guard and continue as a part-time instructor pilot? That's just smart business practice.

Q: If you could only get one recommendation fully implemented, which would it be?

A: There is no single recommendation that deserves more consideration than the others. When we presented the report in our public meetings on Capitol Hill last week, Commissioner Wyatt said that this report has to be taken as a whole; that you can't pick and choose certain recommendations to implement and not implement others because they are all interrelated. And all the other commissioners agreed, including me. For example, the integrated wings are essential for shifting forces from the Active to the Air Reserve Components, and those i-Wings will cut costs and achieve true cultural unity and trust only if you remove the duplicative command structure, and that unity and trust can only be achieved by implementing the continuum of service piece and removing the legal and policy barriers restricting movement among the components. Each recommendation is interdependent with others to some degree.

Q: Why did the commission not specifically address roles and missions- they would de-fine force structure wouldn't they?

A: We decided early on that we would focus on principles and let the Air Force through its corpo-rate process create the force structure it would need for this year and for next, and for the next five years, and the five after.  We could have gotten into specific numbers, but it was more im-portant for us to focus on the process itself than the actual outcome. We were formed as an in-dependent review, and we took our independence very seriously. As an independent panel, we saw the opportunity to take a holistic look at the Air Force and not only its force mix but also its force management in order to find ways of achieving cost efficiencies without undercutting readiness—and, in fact, improving readiness. We concluded that addressing the overarching concepts or principles is the way to achieve long-term cost efficiencies and sustained readiness.

Q: Did you discover any institutional impediments or cultural roadblocks in either com-ponent that would impede increased AC/RC integration?

A: As mentioned above the multiple duty and legal status issues that have been discussed for so long continue to be a problem.  We believe significant reduction in the number of duty statuses will enhance integration and readiness, and will create greater opportunities for members of the Reserve Components.  DOD and Air Force policies as well as administrative practices also cause impediments in many different ways. Take, for example, the definition of deploying. DOD has established a mobilization-to-dwell ratio for the Reserve Components of 1:5, a deploy-to-dwell for the Active of 1:2. But many Air Force Reservists and Air Guardsmen in associate wings will fly regular missions; does that count as deployment? The standard differs from MAJCOM to MAJCOM. Many Reserve Component Airmen mobilize but remain assigned on the home station for a period of full-time duty: that's not a deployment in the eyes of their Active colleagues, but it is a deployment for that Airman's employer or school. And most often, Reservists and Guardsmen volunteer for a deployment, which doesn't count as mobilization. Something as arcane as how you credit an Airman for "deployment" is a hindrance.

You use the phrase "cultural roadblocks," and that alludes to attitudes, both personal and insti-tutional. After more than 10 years of fighting wars together, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are now accorded more respect from their Active counterparts and leadership than perhaps ever before. However, we still heard from Airmen who said they were perceived to be “quitters” when they moved from the Active to a Reserve Component. A total force man-agement policy that recognizes value to the Nation and to the Air Force in all types of service represents the best management of “human capital resources.”  Retaining and fully utilizing the talent and experience in all components without prioritizing one over the other will enable the Air Force to field its very best team.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned/discovered?

A: I was surprised at the unanimity of opinion that the Air Reserve Components still had signifi-cant unused capacity.

Q: A bill introduced this week, H.R. 3930 calls for the formation of a National Commis-sion on the Structure of the Army. What advice would you offer any potential chairman of that commission, specifically as he/she deals with the potential for major cuts to RC end strength?

A: We focused totally on the Air Force, and I’m sure an Army Commission would focus totally on the Army.   I believe the force management principles we recommend would be found useful to the other Services. But having said that, there are significant differences between land and air forces, so some of the other recommendations we made are not as readily transferrable. The Commissioners and I were unanimous about the impact of the Federal Advisor Committee Act had on our work, and I would hope the Congress will take that into account if it decides to form other commissions of this type.

Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

A: If there is a central theme to our report it is seizing the opportunity. The Air Force has long had policies in place that has created an equal level of readiness across all three of its components. It has a successful model for integration in place with its associate wings. Combat engagement is winding down, so it can reshape its force without being on a war footing. And the fiscal envi-ronment of shrinking budgets requires new thinking and new ways of doing things in order to meet the demands that certainly are not shrinking in an ever-dangerous world.

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