AF civil engineer visits Academy
By Staff Sgt. Don Branum, Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published March 10, 2011
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force civil engineer visited the Air Force Academy March 4 as the last stop in a two-day tour of Air Force installations along the Front Range.
Maj. Gen. Timothy Byers spoke to CE officers and cadets here about the state of CE operations in Afghanistan and the effects of force management on the CE officer corps.
General Byers and his staff looked at how they could improve deployments through Silver Flag exercises, which prepare Airmen for deployment by exposing them to scenarios similar to those they will encounter downrange.
"The (U.S. Central Command) area of responsibility is not the right place for a team to come together," he said. Silver Flag allows CE officers to adjust their squadrons before they deploy and also familiarizes Airmen with enemy tactics that currently deployed CE units have encountered.
Another challenge in Afghanistan, General Byers said, is educating the nation's future engineers.
"The Iraqis are pretty well-educated: they have a strong field of medical and engineering professionals," he explained. "Afghanistan doesn't have that." So in addition to training and educating Afghans, Air Force CE units are using lower-tech solutions in construction and firefighting that will be easier for Afghan civil engineers to maintain after U.S. forces have withdrawn.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, the International Security Assistance Force commander, and Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan commander, want to jump-start these and other Afghan civil engineering businesses. General Byers said that civil engineering NCO's role will change, as it has in Iraq, from performing construction work to becoming quality assurance evaluators and contract technical advisers.
The Air Force civil engineer predicted bases would see a decline in military construction, or MILCON, funds as the Defense Department continues to support deployed operations.
"Efficiency's the name of the game," he said. "We need to look at enhanced use-leasing and partnerships with utilities instead of traditional means of using MILCON money." Two examples at the Air Force Academy are the solar array near the South Gate, funded by federal stimulus money through Colorado Springs Utilities, and the Holaday Athletic Center, which was paid for through donations from the USAFA Endowment.
And while the operations tempo will remain high for the foreseeable future, CE officers can expect ramifications from force-management initiatives, General Byers said. The Air Force Directorate of Personnel reduced Air Force Academy accessions into CE from more than 100 slots to 63 before raising the number back to about 85. The reduced accessions have also affected officer promotion rates.
"It took me 22½ months after my board to pin on lieutenant colonel, and this was in the mid-90s," he said. "When you have (reductions in force) and fewer accessions, then you have to slow the promotion boards down." The Air Force moved from promoting officers too slowly to promoting them too quickly and has to move back toward the middle, he added.
Enlisted Airmen, particularly senior NCOs, will also take hits, said Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Abbott, the chief of enlisted matters at the Office of the Air Force Civil Engineer.
"This year, we're 150-percent manned for senior master sergeants in the 3E4 (Air Force Specialty Codes)," Chief Abbott said. "Next year, we'll be 80-percent manned because of high-year tenure." However, the chief added that the news isn't all bad: last year, CE Airmen received more than $15 million in reenlistment bonuses.
General Byers praised the Academy's instructors for producing CE lieutenants who are motivated and prepared to lead.
"What you're producing is pretty good," he said. "The new lieutenants are very fired up and like what they're doing. What you do every day to produce leaders of character is invaluable."
Other bases included in General Byers' visit included Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs and Buckley AFB in Denver.