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NEWS | Feb. 1, 2024

CMSAF prioritizes quality of life at House hearing

Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

The highest-ranking enlisted leaders across the Department of Defense told Congress Jan. 31 that ensuring sufficient pay, health care, housing, education and other “quality of life” factors for active-duty personnel is essential to preserving readiness, maintaining the Total Force, and attracting the talent necessary to protect the nation’s security.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass and Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force John F. Bentivegna told the Quality-of-Life Panel of the House Armed Services Committee that for all the attention on hardware, doctrine, and command structure, none of those can be maximized unless service members and their families are properly cared for and paid.

“The availability of childcare, health care, suitable housing and spouse employment are not solely quality of life issues,” Bentivegna told the House Armed Services Committee. “For Guardians with 24/7 employed in place operations, these are not just benefits, these are readiness issues. In order to develop the combat-ready, space-minded warfighters, our service is not seeking to buy end strength. Our aim is to reward talent and propensity to serve.”

Bass made a similar point at the hearing that also included comments from the senior enlisted leaders from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“One of our lines of efforts is specifically focused on people,” Bass emphasized. “We know that the strategic environment has changed. As such there is a race for talent across our nation, and we must recruit and retain the best that America has to offer. We can't have service members distracted by whether or not they're able to live in safe and affordable housing, whether or not they have access to childcare and health care, or any other challenges unique to serving our nation to include pay and compensation.”

Bass and Bentivegna also noted that while both services must address a list of similar quality of life issues and at times coordinate efforts and strategy, each service also faces a distinct and different subset of issues. Both highlighted the need to ensure competitive pay since both services rely on people with specialized training and skills that also are in high demand in the civilian world.

One of the biggest challenges for the Space Force is providing quality-of-life support that allows Space Force to recruit and retain highly educated, highly specialized personnel that the Space Force requires.

“Guardians entering the service today are more educated, digitally literate, and hungry not just for a job but for opportunities to solve hard problems and assume greater responsibilities in a professional environment that stretches into the far reaches of space,” Bentivegna said.

And much the same as Air Force pilots being lured away by lucrative airline salaries, Bentivegna said the Space Force’s highly trained Guardians need a value proposition to reward talent needed to retain the experience and their expertise.

“Our commitment and actions to care for them and their families protects and ensures their focus, resolve, and willingness to continue their journey in the Space Force,” he said. “This is the value proposition we offer; continuing to make their experience meaningful and fulfilling amidst lucrative options from other sectors that seek Guardians for their skills and talent.”

Bass also stressed the importance of prioritizing the quality of life of Airmen linking to readiness, recruitment and retention.

“We have an opportunity today to pull some levers that don't increase the top line,” Bass said. “And so, I hope that we take an opportunity to look at pay and compensation, especially when you consider we have not done a targeted pay raised for your military service members since 2007.”

Focusing on improving the quality of life for Airmen and Guardians are essential as the Department of the Air Force takes a complete look at re-optimizing for great power competition.

“Every dollar invested in a service member pays dividends for the Space Force, Department of Defense and our nation,” Bentivegna said. “This investment is vital to retaining the experience required for great power competition.”

Both service leaders saw the HASC panel as an opportunity to represent Airmen, Guardians and their families and provide insight into the quality of service and quality of life of service members that affect the force.

“To that end, we have the opportunity now to make some real impact on the quality of life of our service members,” she said. “America's sons and daughters are key to our national security and continuing to ensure our military is a place where people want to serve will take all of us.”