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Changes will ultimately benefit Airmen, says Air Force Chief

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney McKinley held an enlisted call June 6 at the Peterson auditorium. Chief McKinley addressed the Air Force Shaping Initiative, new uniforms, training and other Air Force priorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Larry Hulst)

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rodney McKinley held an enlisted call June 6 at the Peterson auditorium. Chief McKinley addressed the Air Force Shaping Initiative, new uniforms, training and other Air Force priorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Larry Hulst)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- An Air Force-wide plan to reduce the number of Airmen while saving money for equipment upgrades will be difficult but, ultimately, beneficial, said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley.

Stopping by Peterson June 6 for an enlisted call, Chief McKinley spoke with Airmen about the Air Force Shaping Initiative, which will reduce the service by 40,000 over the next three years at a savings of $6 billion per year.

The money, he said, will be used to modernize and recapitalize according to the service's top five procurement priorities: replacing aging tankers, Combat Search and Rescue, space assets, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a long-range bomber.

"Force shaping will be difficult, and it's going to take strong leadership to get there," Chief McKinley told the crowded base auditorium. "But when we get through this, we're going to be right-sized and we're going to have much better capabilities."

Chief McKinley said the Air Force is working on ways to make sure the force reduction doesn't add up to more work for the Airmen who remain.

Ancillary training will likely be drastically reduced, he said, and leadership is looking at ways to reduce additional duties. Chief McKinley also asked Airmen to offer any suggestions for increasing efficiency to their supervisors.

"We can not continue to do more with less," he said. "We need to find ways to do less with less. If you can say, 'There's a smarter way to do this,' then pass that on."

The Air Force will also be looking at saving money in other areas, Chief McKinley said. While most "quality of life" staples, such as family housing and child care, will remain, Airmen should be prepared for small cutbacks, such as the loss of towel service at some fitness centers, he said.

"The Air Force is absolutely committed to things like family housing, dormitories, fitness centers, the look of the base - those are all quality of life things," he said. "But sometimes we get used to things we think are quality of life, but they're really just perks we can't afford anymore."

Despite the loss of some perks, Chief McKinley said the Air Force's top priorities right now are taking care of its Airmen and preparing them to win the global war on terror.

To help Airmen succeed, basic training is being extended from 6 ½ weeks to 8 ½ weeks, adding time to focus on warrior ethos and life-saving skills. A deal with several colleges and universities nationwide will also allow Airmen to fully transfer their Community College of the Air Force credits now, which Chief McKinley said should make it easier to earn a degree.

Airmen will also see new uniforms in the coming months as well as improvements to PT gear, which is being reworked to fit better and will contain wicking material to help with sweat.

He said the improvements should help the Air Force fulfill its goal of winning the war on terror by helping Airmen better prepare for deployment. But he reminded Airmen that preparation ultimately starts with them. He encouraged everyone to remain physically fit and properly trained - and to make sure their colleagues are, too.

"It's your job to make sure all our Airmen are properly trained and equipped to do whatever our Air Force needs them to do," Chief McKinley said. "The enemy - they have long-term goals of changing our way of life here in America, and that's not going to change anytime soon."