NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland –
In a departure from past speeches focusing on operations and modernization, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, placed a heavier emphasis Sept. 19 in a high-profile address on personnel issues ranging from recruiting to housing and pay, combatting sexual harassment and coping with the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion.
“Our competitors are deterred from aggression not just by weapons systems, but more importantly by a motivated, professional, empowered, and well-trained Joint Force,” Kendall said during his keynote address to the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference.
To an extent not often present in his previous public remarks, Kendall drew a direct line from the well-being of a diverse and professionally fulfilled Total Force, its quality of life and the ability of the Air and Space Forces to accomplish their missions and defend the United States.
“The (Department of the Air Force) leadership knows we can’t expect Airmen and Guardians to give their all to the mission when they are worried about paying for gas to get to work, finding childcare, or providing their family a safe place to live,” Kendall said to an audience of more than 2,500 Airmen, Guardians, industry officials and others attending the three-day conference in the shadow of the nation’s capital.
To be sure, Kendall also addressed topics that have been staples of his public remarks since becoming the Department’s highest-ranking civilian leader a year ago. Foremost among them is the rising challenge posed by China.
“I’ve said from my first days on the job that my priorities were China, China, and China. I’ve been beating the drum about China’s military modernization for a long time – a dozen years, and I’d like to think that the message is starting to resonate,” he said.
Kendall also mentioned his seven Operational Imperatives that have forged the essential roadmap for modernizing and changing the service to meet China’s challenge and, to a lesser extent, those from Russia.
A major part of the Operational Imperatives is refining – and improving – the way information is collected, processed, analyzed and shared across the Joint Force as part of an “all domain” approach.
Kendall said progress has been made but, in one important area known as command, control and communication in battle management a change is needed to force the needed progress.
“Our efforts to date have not been adequately focused nor have they been adequately integrated,” Kendall said of the various components of the complex effort. “As a result, I have appointed Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey as the new integrating program executive officer for DAF C3BM.”
Kendall, a West Point graduate and an avid sailor, used that background to capture the difficulty of the task.
“The (Department) is a large ship that turns slowly, but to use a sailing expression, the helm is hard over,” he said. “We’ve identified the change we need to accelerate to avoid losing. Now we have to resource that change and execute the plan to make it happen.”
But technical prowess and state-of-the-art hardware are insufficient for success, he said.
To drive home the emphasis on people and reinforce his point that that reality is more than theoretical, Kendall offered a blunt, real-world example.
“We’re seeing the price Russia is paying for failing to invest in its people,” he said. “We’re seeing failure at scale in action, and it’s very visible on the battlefield. Beyond that, we’re seeing the difference between those who are fighting for a cause and an organization and team that they can believe in, and those whose only motivations are survival and avoiding harsh discipline.”
While acknowledging that more work needs to be done, Kendall highlighted several examples across his 30-minute remarks where the Department is changing – dramatically, in some cases – practices and policies that touch Airmen, Guardians, civilians and families in multiple ways.
He said that the Air Force is finalizing new rules that liberalize and streamline rules for women aircrew who want to continue flying while pregnant; he said the Department is committed to improving housing and more vigorously enforcing a “Tenants Bill of Rights.” He pointed out that the Department is reworking its approach to job classifications and how it promotes Airmen and Guardians and is using new thinking and approaches to recruit personnel.
“We must all work to increase propensity of young Americans to serve. We must help a broader population see themselves as someone who can succeed, grow, and thrive by serving their country in uniform as part of a great team,” he said.
Kendall also announced that the service’s approach to pay is changing, and the Department is looking for ways to ease the financial strain caused by inflation.
“With the (fiscal year 2023) budget, we expect the largest pay increase we’ve seen in nearly two decades. We are working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure Basic Allowance for Housing keeps pace with costs,” he said.
He also acknowledged that, “Our system to adjust Special Duty Pay was out of sync with the rapid changes in our economy brought on by COVID and the invasion of Ukraine. That’s why I’m announcing today that the (Department) will restore all of the reductions to Special Duty Assignment Pay that were scheduled to take effect on 1 October – including those for our recruiters.”