DoD Personnel Reporter’s Notebook

“DoD Personnel Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the military and civilian personnel and workforce issues, as gathered by Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Scott Maucione.

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Army is taking a page from Air Force and cutting some training

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As the Army repositions itself to be a difference service by 2028, it’s taking a page from the Air Force when it comes to training its soldiers.

Or one could say not training. The Army is cutting some training it feels is unnecessary as a means of unburdening soldiers so they can spend more time with their families or focusing on readiness.

“Consistent with the new The Army Vision, the Secretary of the Army has signed memorandums that modify or eliminate certain training requirements to improve the warfighting readiness and lethality of our Army. These memorandums will be captured in an Army directive that will be published this summer. This directive will ensure that existing Army directives and regulations are updated to reflect the Secretary’s guidance,” read a release from Army spokesman Maj. Christopher Ophardt.

The move is something the Air Force undertook toward the end of 2016 for the same reasons and at this point has never looked back.

The Army’s cuts range wide and far into computer-based training courses.

Soldiers will no longer have to take “travel risk planning system,” “media awareness” or “combating trafficking in persons” training.

Units are no longer responsible for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training or counter improvised explosive device training. Information from those courses will be incorporated into units’ mission essential task training as part of the operational environment.

Transgender and suicide prevention training are also no longer required.

A series of nine memos signed by Army Secretary Mark Esper cut back on additional duties as well as training, something the Air Force already experimented with as well.

Additional duty cuts include a six-month command climate survey and the semi-annual tool room inventory requirement.

Soldiers also will be able to skip training on escaping captivity and recovering personnel.

Cutting training isn’t the only change the Army is making. It’s also experimenting with making basic training longer.

The service is currently experimenting with a 21 week course at Ft. Benning, Georgia and plans to expand it to certain one-station unit training courses in the future. The Army has the highest number of nondeployable troops of any service due to obesity. The extra training will also help keep talented individuals who are not as active in better shape.

“This generation has an incredible facility with electronics, with software and all that,” Esper said at the Brookings Institution last week. “On the other hand they may not be coming in as physically fit as previous generations for one reason or another. That’s one reason we’re looking at an extended basic training.”

Esper added the training will also increase the readiness and lethality of the total force. The Army is preparing its soldiers to fight in new areas, particularly in high-intensity conflict in urban areas with electronically degraded environments.

Air Force case study

The Air Force is fairly deep into its training cut and even went further in February by cutting transition assistance program training for airmen in the reserves.

“After having heard a lot of these concerns and just given the pressure in terms of manpower that we have in the Air Force and the increasing demand for what the Air Force does … the focus was ‘How do we provide an opportunity to give a little bit more white space on the calendar to give these individual Airmen to do the work they were brought in to do: supporting our mission?’” Gabe Camarillo, Air Force assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs told Federal News Radio. “It’s a concern not only to every individual airman that we hear from, it’s also a concern from a readiness perspective.”

Just six months after cutting extra training, an Air Force crowdsourcing effort found the biggest issues squadrons said they faced were additional training and extra duties.

Over the years as civilian jobs have been cut and the Air Force has downsized, more duties like custodial work and safety management have fallen to airmen.

Additional training has also piled up over the years.

The Air Force took some steps last year to cut some training and duties.

The Air Force released a list of the courses that will be eliminated or streamlined. A computer-based, 20-minute training course providing an introduction to the role of the Inspector General got the ax.

The service cut 21 additional duties as well.

The service continually reviews training and duties that may be unneeded.


Air Force expands paid parental leave to up to 21 days

New parents may be able to get a wink or two more of sleep thanks to a new Air Force policy.

The service announced last week it is expanding paid parental leave for service members whose spouses have a child to up to 21 days after the birth or adoption.

“This is a huge win for our Airmen and families. We talk about hitting singles and advancing runners a lot, but this? This is an extra inning walk off homer. We now have not only the most generous parental leave policy in the Department of Defense, we have the most generous parental leave policy in the federal government. Secretary Wilson and Gen. David L. Goldfein allowed us to take full advantage of the language in the NDAA and the DoDI and allow our Airmen the maximum time possible in the most flexible application possible. And because it took so long to get from the NDAA to implementation, we’re making it retroactive,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said in a June 8 Facebook post.

The Air Force previously only allowed 10 days of leave to airmen whose spouse gave birth.

Air Force policy already allows women who give birth 42 days of leave and it allows primary caregivers 42 days of leave. The new policy now extends leave for secondary caregivers to 21.

Fathers can be considered primary caregivers, so technically a new mother and a new father could both take six weeks of leave after the birth of a child or a mother could take 12 weeks and the father 21 days.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened the possibility for 12 week maternity leave with his Force of the Future initiative and the services quickly followed suit. Increased parental leave was part of the 2017 defense authorization bill.

The Navy was the first to expand its parental leave in January.

“It’s tough to start a family and raise a family while we make deployments, so the first thing we need to do is remove unnecessary obstacles between starting that family and having that Navy career, and we’ve been working hard on those,” Navy personnel chief Vice Adm. Robert Burke.


Video games are the next frontier for Air Force recruiting

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Get your controllers ready and tell Mario to warm up his legs because video games are the newest recruiting tools for the Air Force.

Imagine a world where video games are built to test for certain skills the Air Force wants and needs and then the service could hone in on IP addresses that excel in those games.

Sounds like the book Ender’s Game, right? But it may not be that far off.

Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast, the Air Education and Training Command chief, says the first iteration of games with those capabilities could come out as soon as this summer.

The idea is to create video games sponsored by the Air Force and let people play them. From there the Air Force can monitor what IP addresses are doing particularly well and offer them incentives to join the military.

“That game gives me insight into their skill, their knowledge, their attributes and their characteristics. I don’t need to know their names, but I know that IP address so-and-so really has unique skills to be a helicopter pilot,” Kwast said, during a May 24 breakfast with reporters in Washington.

The game is currently in development and takes its data from the Pilot Training Next program in Austin, Texas. Pilot Training Next took 15 officers and five enlisted airmen earlier this year and put them through an experimental training course that uses new technologies to discover the attributes that make a good pilot.

“This is student-centric learning,” said Lt. Col. Robert Vicars, Pilot Training Next initiative director. “We are going to use immersive technology to see how we can help people learn more effectively. This is an initiative to explore whether or not these technologies can help us learn deeper and faster. The next generation of technology is emerging so we will rely on current as well as future technologies. We are looking at building an intelligent tutor to monitor the students. It will track their biometrics and understand their stress level to optimize the learning environment for the individual and put them under the right amount of stress to create learning.”

The game will take data from what the Pilot Training Next initiative learns and look for those characteristics in players.

The video game won’t necessarily test just for pilots, it can also test for any attribute the Air Force wants depending on what the game is and what settings the Air Force puts on the game.

“It’s amazing what we know. Our team of psychologists, sociologists and cultural anthropologists, when they get together and you look at the body of knowledge out there. It’s amazing that by looking at a couple of scenarios and making you make some decisions  and answer some questions through a game I can measure things like critical thinking, creative thinking, conceptual thinking, contextual thinking, collaborative thinking, constructive thinking. I can tell if you are empathetic, I can tell if you cheat, I can tell if you cut corners, I can tell if you are morally courageous under pressure or whether you save your own skin,” Kwast said.

The game may be a way for the Air Force to widen its talent pool, especially for pilots.

The Air Force is at least 2,000 pilots short right now. It’s making a lot of changes to grow its pilot force.

The Air Force is increasing the number of pilots it trains a year from 1,200 to 1,400.

It’s also trying other ways of recruiting.

“We do have a couple of experiments to see if we can go faster. We are partnering with some local universities to see if we can take some of their students who have gone through one of their aviation programs. They already have their commercial multi-engine ratings and then can we pipeline them and not do the whole training, but just do the T-1 training and cut the pilot training in half, as well as experiment to see if we can use technology, some virtual reality and augmented reality to determine ‘Can I shorten that timeline?” Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.


Air Force makes awards more visible, cuts back on bureaucracy

Hoping to get some recognition for your ideas in the Air Force?

The Air Force Personnel Command made it easier for airmen to find special trophies and awards last week.

The command put all of the awards in a single database airmen can search. The database holds the name, description and how to apply for each award.

The service hopes to give the awards maximum visibility through the database so airmen will be motivated by the awards. The service also wants to get rid of unneeded instructions involving awards.

“Our goal for this project was to consolidate special trophies and awards guidance thereby reducing the number of award-related [Air Force instructions],” said Master Sgt. Angel Ortiz, Air Force Personnel Command Air Force Recognition program manager and database developer.

The database brings together more than 30 Air Force instructions, incorporating more than 700 functional awards.

“What we have built will allow leaders to break down the special trophies and awards program and deep-dive into areas that directly pertain to their organizations,” said Tech. Sgt. Jorge Hernandez, 433rd Force Support Squadron commander support staff and database programmer at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. “For example, a security forces NCO will be able to query the system by [regular Air Force], Guard, Reserve or Total Force by enlisted Airmen, requiring major command approval, within Air Force Special Operations Command.”

The Air Force is on a broader mission to cut back on its instructions.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced a two year review of instructions and polices last August.

Since then the service rescinded at least 100 instructions.

“We are prioritizing the ones that are outdated and actually track them every month,” Wilson said during a March 30 Air Force Association event in Washington. “The biggest challenge we have been facing is in personnel and operations. We need to get those right and get them understandable and then get the approval authorities, the waiver authorities at the lowest appropriate level.”

The Air Force has more than 1,400 instructions under review, which altogether account for more than 130,000 compliance items at the lowest levels.

The service’s goal is not only to get rid of outdated and unneeded rules airmen must follow, but also to make them easier to understand.

“I insisted the remaining ones be written in English; a lot of them weren’t,” Wilson said referring to the legal language many instructions are written in. “It’s nice to be able to read a draft instruction that I can actually understand and that I might expect an 18-year-old to understand as well.”

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.


Senate committee proposes biggest change to military personnel in nearly 30 years

The Senate Armed Services Committee is making some of the biggest changes to the military personnel system since the early 1980s in the 2019 defense authorization bill.

The bill, which was passed by the committee on May 24, completely revamps the role of the undersecretary of personnel and readiness, a position that has been plagued by high turnover rates and frequent vacancies over the past decade.

If passed, the bill would split the responsibilities between readiness and personnel. There would be an undersecretary of defense for personnel who acts purely as a chief human capital officer.

The readiness responsibilities would be delegated throughout a few assistant secretaries.

While rearranging the deck chairs isn’t too new to the Defense Department, the changes to the actual promotion and up or out system, which forces service members to promote in a certain time or leave the military.

The bill pushes more promotion decisions down to the services to create alternative paths and timelines for officers to move up in the ranks.

“Our approach to [the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA)] was granting the service secretaries more flexibility to the service secretaries to shape their promotion timeline in a way that’s most effective for their service. The committee didn’t feel that the Air Force promotion system didn’t necessarily need to resemble the Marine Corps promotion system,” a Senate Armed Services Committee staffer said on background May 25.

The bill also gives services the ability to change the promotion timeline for certain occupations.

This is something the Air Force is particularly interested in for pilots. As the service is struggling to keep pilots in the service, it found many pilots are not interested in the up-or-out system. They would rather just fly and not worry about meeting goals to become a general one day.

The Senate Committee also wants to expand officer spot promotions up to the colonel level. This would allow the service to give a lower ranking officer a higher rank on-the-spot if he or she takes a high demand or challenging job.

Finally, the bill repeals age restrictions on how old someone must be to reach a certain rank.

The changes come as somewhat of a surprise considering the House did not touch DOPMA reform at all in its version of the bill.

The House Armed Services Committee said it was waiting for the Defense Department’s report on DOPMA, which is currently behind schedule.

A Senate Armed Services Committee aide said many of the reforms in the bill are issues DoD wanted to address.

DoD and Congress already made some changes to DOPMA in order to retain talent and to recruit people in needed areas.

DoD already implemented a direct commissioning program for cyber professionals and the House version of the bill expands that authority to other occupations.

In the past DoD suggested allowing officers to opt-out of promotion board consideration upon request if it is deemed beneficial to the military. The Senate bill would most likely let the services use an authority similar to that.

The idea is something brought up in the past by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter as part of the Force of the Future initiative, which expanded maternity leave for service members and lengthened child care hours, among other things.

“In an effort to import talent development and management within the department, this proposal will ensure that officers, with the approval of the secretary concerned, are given the flexibility to explore educational and other career broadening opportunities, without being penalized for not meeting the promotion eligibility criteria in the usual time allotted,” the proposal stated.

Former Army Secretary and Force of the Future architect Brad Carson praised Mattis’ decision to rehash the promotion board issue.

“The proposed reforms are ones we did recommend as part of the Force of the Future and we thought were very common sense, but were somewhat controversial and it’s great to see DoD coming around to support them,” Carson said.

The “up or out” mentality hasn’t always worked to the benefit of talented officers. Officers who take unusual career paths or pursue experiences tend to be forced out of the military, despite being exactly the kind of innovative thinkers the 21st century military is trying to recruit.

Promotion boards, at times, will end up picking someone with operation experience in Iraq over a Rhodes Scholar. That ends up going counter to DoD’s policy decisions to prepare for future conflicts in new domains against more sophisticated adversaries.

“Mattis is forward thinking in every way and so I’m not surprised he’s interested in it. It’s heartening to see their interest because of how important it is,” Carson said.

Center for a New American Security Research Associate Lauren Fish said the proposal is a great way to keep talent in the ranks.

“By allowing officers to extend their time in grade without penalty, more officers would be interested in career-broadening assignments or educational opportunities without the concern that they will be foregoing valuable time to “check the boxes” that they need to for promotion. This reform would be a great first step toward increasing the flexibility in human capital management to both create more well-rounded officers with broad experience, as well as institute policies more consistent with civilian employment where getting new experiences or education increase your saliency for promotion, rather hurt your chances of promotion tied to stringent timelines,” Fish told Federal News Radio.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.


4 ways NDAA amendments are changing personnel issues

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Flag officers may have more oversight placed on them, the Defense Department may have to look into flexible maternity leave and credentials might be easier for service members.

Those are just a taste of some of the amendments regarding personnel issues that made it into the House version of the 2019 defense authorization last week.

The May 9 markup went into the wee hours of the morning, so Federal News Radio rounded up what you need to know about personnel issues that snuck into the NDAA before the House Armed Services Committee passed it 60-1.

Credentialing

Credentials have been a big issue for the military and Congress over the past few years. Lawmakers find it preposterous that service members can drive an 18-wheeler in the military, but then have to go through another licensing process to drive one in the civilian world.

The 2019 House version of the defense authorization bill tries to make it easier for service members to transition to civilian life with employment options.

The amendment from Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) makes a subtle change to the military’s credentialing program, but it has large repercussions.

Previously, the law required DoD to pay for credentialing if it related to military training. The provision gets rid of the military training qualification.

The amendment would allow service members to get professional accreditation, federal occupational licenses and state professional licenses as long as they translate into a civilian job outside the military.

The government would still pick up the tab too.

Brain injury

Head injuries are getting more and more interest in the military. A recent study from the Center for a New American Security found shoulder mounted heavy weapons may be causing head trauma to troops during training.

“What we now know after doing a lot of research and based on a lot of science is some service members suffer from short term cognitive deficits from heavy weapons usage shot during training exercises,” said Lauren Fish, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security. “While these symptoms dissipate after about 96 hours, we don’t yet know the long term effects.”

The potential for brain injury from frequently used weapons like Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles is making the Defense Department rethink how it protects the brains of its troops.

There is currently no requirement to protect troops from blast waves even though primary blast pressure waves are mechanisms for brain injury.

Congress wants DoD to get moving on protecting service members’ brains.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) put an amendment in the bill requiring DoD to look into research gaps and links between brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is the neurodegenerative disorder made famous by some NFL players who are exposed to repeated mild traumatic head blows.

“There are still gaps in research between TBI and CTE and understanding the status and progress of CTE efforts within the military is of critical importance. Therefore, the Committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with Secretaries of the military departments, to provide a report on CTE research in the military to the committee,” the provision stated.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) also wants to know DoD is doing more for head injuries. His amendment requires the defense secretary to submit a plan to accelerate the development and deliver treatments of CTE, brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This report shall include a plan to accelerate innovation and delivery of treatments for TBI, CTE and PTSD to members of the Armed Forces and covered beneficiaries through improved coordination of behavioral health research and development efforts across the federal government, academic institutions and industry,” the amendment stated.

Maternity leave

DoD already made some big changes to maternity and paternity leave. Under former Defense Secretary Ash Carter maternity leave expanded to up to 84 days.

However, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services’ most recent report didn’t think that was enough, especially since the military has trouble holding on to its mid-career women.

“There is concern across all of the branches at mid-career retention for women versus men. All of the services in varying career fields, at varying points but still within that mid-range of a 20 year career, they are experiencing challenges with women leaving at higher rates,” said Janet Wolfenbarger, chairwoman of the committee said.

Wolfenbarger said the committee found there need to be some tweaks to maternity leave. The committee recommended allowing flexible, noncontinuous parental leave by request.

“Although current maternity and parental leave policies are a strong step in the right direction, more can be done to tailor leave to families’ unique situations,” the report stated. The flexible option “is one potential way to support a service member after a child joins the member’s family, whether through birth or adoption. The committee believes allowing noncontinuous leave, when requested, could help service members better balance their unique family needs during critical junctures of their lives and, in turn, help support retention efforts.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) took the recommendation to heart. Her amendment requires DoD to examine the possibility of flexible maternity and paternity leave and report back by Dec. 1.

Flag officers

Flag officers and their staff have long been a point of contention. Last year, the defense authorization act required DoD to trim its general and flag officers by 25 percent.

Now Congress wants more oversight into the actions of flag officers. An amendment inserted by Rep. Speier requires DoD to submit a report on flag and general officers estimating the direct and indirect costs associated with their positions.

DoD must report direct compensation, personal money allowances, deferred compensation and health care costs, security detail costs, travel costs, per diem and costs for housing for aides.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.


National Guard promotion provision makes it into House NDAA

National Guard officers just got a lot closer to receiving backdated pay for long promotion waits.

The House Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment last week requiring National Guard officers get paid retroactively from the time they are promoted to the time it takes the federal government to approve the promotion.

The amendment is now attached to the House version of a bill that has passed 57 years in a row, one of the few bills that actually makes it through the legislative process each year.

Some guardsmen wait more than half a year from the time they are nominated for a new rank to the time it takes for the Defense Department to approve it.

“There’s a back pay issue, where you don’t get your next rank’s pay until you are recognized in that position. You’re serving in a grade that’s higher. You’re serving in that next position, but you’re not getting that time in grade,” J.C. Cardinale, legislative affairs manager at the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) told Federal News Radio. “What it really comes down to is a retention issue for us. You’re creating this deep frustration in the Guard.”

An independent bill is already floating around in the House and Senate requiring guardsmen receive backdated pay and that DoD notify Congress when a promotion takes more than 200 days.

The amendment holds basically the same language and was introduced by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

The National Guard promotion issue started gaining attention after NGAUS released a survey stating 49 percent of the more than 3,100 guardsmen they polled said more than 196 days passed between state recognition and federal recognition of a promotion. Of the rest, 37 percent waited between 196 days and 120 days and only 14 percent were promoted in less than 120 days.

“It’s not right to make our junior officers wait months and months to receive the pay and benefits they have earned because of bureaucratic delays. I’ve heard from Massachusetts Guard members who are frustrated by these delays — our bipartisan bill takes simple steps to fix the problem and do right by our dedicated men and women in uniform,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who sponsored the independent bill, said in a May 8 release.

Warren grilled Army Secretary Mark Esper on the issue last month during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Esper acknowledged the wait time for National Guard promotions is out of hand.

Esper said one of the main issues is the process itself.

“The numbers are too long and unacceptable and frankly in my time in the Guard I had a similar action happen to me,” Esper said. “What we are doing is we are digging through it right now. Part of the challenge is there are multiple steps. The process begins at the state [adjutant general] level and goes through the [National Guard Bureau], the G-1 (Army Personnel} and in some cases the Senate if it’s a colonel or above.”

The secretary noted the Army added more manpower to the problem and is looking into better automation.

“I think there are ways we can reduce the time. There’s about 30 to 45 days added on to determine they have exhibited exemplary behavior and then there are other things out there that may require congressional action,” Esper said. “Part of the process as I understand is the scrolling, which is an antiquated pen and paper process, which also adds time to it. We are trying to attack it on a number of fronts, but it needs to be much, much more timely.”

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.


Democrats push back on DoD decision to withhold troop numbers overseas

Almost nine months after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed orders to send more troops to Afghanistan, the public still doesn’t know how many U.S. service members are currently in the country.

That goes for Iraq and Syria as well.

The Defense Manpower Data Center stripped total U.S. troop numbers for Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan from its quarterly report in December on the number of troops and civilians overseas.

Now some House Democrats are taking action, stating the redaction of troop numbers is a transparency issue.

House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and all of the Democrats on the National Security Subcommittee signed a May 10 letter urging the Defense Department to report troop numbers overseas.

“This data was publicly available to Congress and the American people throughout the Bush and Obama Administrations and should continue to be so under the Trump Administration, as it has facilitated the development of policies and measures designed to maximize the protection of U.S. Forces deployed overseas. In the interest of continued force protection, transparency and accountability relating to our military presence in key combat zones, we respectfully request that you immediately reverse this policy,” the letter stated.

The lawmakers state accurate and transparent accounting of troops helps Congress make better decisions regarding personnel and equipment.

The Trump administration stopped reporting troop numbers last year.

This isn’t the only area DoD is trying to cloister up.

DoD requested reprieve from parts of the Freedom of Information Act in this year’s defense authorization bill as it has done in the past.

The proposed legislation would give DoD a de facto blank check to deny FOIA requests.

“The way that this language is written is very squishy, which is not a legal term, but you look at it and the [provision] says ‘any information that would identify a method to accomplish a specific mission under a particular set of operational conditions.’ That doesn’t mean anything to me. Those terms aren’t defined in this legislation,” Liz Hempowicz, policy director at the Project on Government Oversight told Federal News Radio.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.


Air Force empowers commanders to train airmen how they see fit

As of April 27, the Air Force empowered its commanders and supervisors to conduct nearly all ancillary training as they see fit. Computer-based training is no longer the primary tool for providing information.

The Air Force’s 1st Special Operations Wing is one of the first to take advantage of the new powers.

The wing is using mass briefings and group dialogue instead of individual computer-based training “whenever possible,” according to an April 30 memo signed by wing Commander Col. Thomas Palenske and first published on the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook site.

The Air Force as a whole is giving all its commanders the power to determine how their airmen will “complete mandatory training through the method and at the time they deem most appropriate, and will determined the best way to record such training has occurred,” the April 27 memo stated.

The 1st Special Operations Wing is streamlining training that is event driven, annual and single use. Some classes the wing will now do in groups include cyber awareness challenge training, force protection training, sexual assault and suicide training, religious freedom training and newcomers human relations training.

This isn’t the first time the wing changed policy to make things easier for its airmen. The wing cut some extra duties airmen were required to perform earlier in the year.

Earlier in April, the wing started handing out waivers to some enlisted airmen who are stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire waiting to move to the next skill level.

Currently, airmen moving to the skill level of journeyman or craftsman must wait at least a year before they are awarded their rank.

But Palenske found some enlisted airmen were finishing their training and development before that one-year period and were held back from moving to the next rank purely because they had to finish out the year.

Palenske told Federal News Radio during a May 1 interview that the larger intent of the memos is to change the culture of the Air Force.

Palenske said he is trying erode any barriers of trust between leadership and airmen to better the force and bring ideas up from the bottom.

“The real intent is to set a culture that that truly empowers airmen at every echelon inside our formation. Even deeper than squadron commanders, I’m talking about an [airman] that’s on the flight line turning wrenches. If they have a good idea we [as leaders] should be there to make their idea a reality, not an impediment to that and not relying on outdated [instructions] from 2007 and say, ‘No, you can’t do what you think is right and what I think is also right because this 11-year-old [instruction] says you can’t do it,’” Palenske said.

He added all of the memos so far came from the airmen.

“I haven’t had an original idea in 49 years,” he said.

The Air Force as a whole is trying to reduce burdens on airmen and to empower lower-level leaders to take on more risk since higher-level leaders are not always on the ground to realize what works best.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson ordered a two-year review of the instructions and policies to reduce the rules and outdated procedures airmen must follow. Wilson said the Air Force rescinded at least 100 instructions since the initial announcement last August.

“We are prioritizing the ones that are outdated and actually track them every month,” Wilson said, during a March 30 Air Force Association event in Washington. “The biggest challenge we have been facing is in personnel and operations. We need to get those right and get them understandable and then get the approval authorities, the waiver authorities at the lowest appropriate level.”

In the meantime, the Air Force is counting on wing commanders to lead the way and ignore some outdated instructions.


The darker side of the Pentagon’s sexual assault report

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The Pentagon says more women are reporting sexual assaults, but some anti-sexual assault groups are finding dark statistics lurking in the Defense Department’s 2017 report.

DOD rolled out its study April 30. The military saw a huge ramp up in reporting of assaults. It also saw a lack in actual prosecutions and convictions.

The Pentagon report stated there were 5,110 reports on sexual assaults, but 406 went to court martial and 166 of those lead to convictions.

Protect Our Defenders, an organization dedicated to ending rape and sexual assault in the military, says those numbers are concerning.

“The prosecutions are going down and what that does is deny accountability for the military and justice for the survivors of sexual assault. We’ve seen decades of promises about zero tolerance, we’ve seen millions of dollars thrown at this problem and millions of hours of training and yet at the end of the day we only ended up with 166 convictions,” Don Christensen, former chief prosecutor of the Air Force and president of Protect Our Defenders.

Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Ranking Member Kristen Gillibrand expressed similar feelings at the report’s release.

The report “shows that more sexual predators are getting off the hook and fewer survivors are getting the justice they deserve. While reports might be up, accountability for sexual assault offenders is going down,” Gillibrand said in an April 30 release.

The Service Women’s Action Network released similar sentiments.

Christensen said there are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 sexual assaults in the active duty force taking into account those that are not reported, but there are also tens of thousands more when taking into account people outside the military who are assaulted by a military member.

“Despite the fact that we see things moving the right way on reporting, that’s not nearly good enough and when the reports are made very few of them actually see the inside of a court,” Christensen said.

The report showed an increase in internal punishments, something that is worrisome to anti-assault groups.

“What you see when you dig into the numbers of the report, fewer and fewer commanders are using the court martial process to address sexual assault and rape and instead using administrative discharges, non-judicial punishment, a reprimand or something like that,” Chirstensen said.

Christensen did say the increase in reports is a good sign. The increase came mostly from women.

Christensen attributed the increase to the #MeToo movement, which has taken the country by storm as more and more men who have used their power positions for sexual gain are being outed.

“The #MeToo movement really has ignited. It really has instilled confidence in women that come forward. I think in the fact that over the past four or five years Congress and the media have put so much attention on this that a survivor knows if they come forward they are going to have someone in their corner,” Christensen said.


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