Air Force officials announced Dec. 21, 2015, that Tops in Blue, the service-unique entertainment program, will cancel its 2016 season, allowing an extended review of the program.
Over the last year, submissions to the Air Force’s Airmen Powered by Innovation program reflected recommendations to cancel Tops in Blue because of the required manpower and associated cost. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James noted the topic was often a discussion during her base all calls with Airmen.
Combined with today’s fiscal realities and resource constraints, and changing Airmen demographics and entertainment preferences, James sought additional feedback from Airmen about the program. Headquarters Air Force decided on two methods to gather this feedback.
The first method was to attach Tops in Blue questions to an internal survey already set to reach 4,674 Airmen. The second was an email sent from the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services to the major commands asking them for Airmen feedback by means of the wing commanders and command chiefs.
The first survey, an internal communications assessment group, indicated a wide awareness of Tops in Blue among Airmen. About half of all Airmen surveyed agreed they would attend a future Tops in Blue event. While there is widespread awareness among the force, only about 25 percent of all Airmen have seen a performance within the past five years. Of all the age groups, and representing a third of the overall Airman population, the 25- to 34-year-old age group was the least likely to have a positive opinion of Tops in Blue.
In addition to the official survey, feedback solicited from the MAJCOMs and bases showed 41 percent recommended divesting, while 19 percent of the members polled were in favor of keeping Tops in Blue. Around 17 percent suggested a modified program and six percent had “other” opinions.
In consideration of this feedback from a wide range of Airmen, the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force made the decision to take a pause in the Tops in Blue program to reassess its mission, venue, themes and cost.
“The decision to pause and reassess the 2016 Tops in Blue season was a tough one,” said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, director of manpower, personnel and services. “While Airmen’s feedback was extremely important, it was just one of many factors considered as we seek to meet our core mission requirements in a time of constrained resources. The Air Force will continue to support our Airmen and their families while recognizing their entertainment preferences have changed.”
“The feedback indicated this was not a cut-and-dry decision,” explained Brig. Gen. Lenny Richoux, Air Force Services director. “There are Airmen who enjoyed the performance, and we do care about what Airmen value. However, considering a changing demand for entertainment combined with constrained resources, it is important that we take a look at alternatives and ask for a broad base of inputs and opinions.”
Richoux said the Air Force Services Activity will consider a wide range of options to both entertain and educate Airmen. Some of those include increased use of contracted musical, sports-related, and other professional acts in both deployed and home station locations.
Other options include modifying the Tops in Blue program to include messages and teaching moments for Airmen that talk to the real challenges associated with military life.
Tops in Blue’s last 2015 show will be Jan. 15, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
For a complete schedule of the final shows, visit https://www.usafservices.com/TopsInBlue.aspx#tour.
For information about additional morale, welfare and recreation events, Airmen should contact their local MWR facilities or force support squadrons.