MARCH 9, 2017, WASHINGTON (AFNS) – When Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright received the title of the Air Force’s most senior enlisted Airman less than a month ago, he instantly became responsible for advocating the best interests of more than 398,000 total force enlisted Airmen and their families.
Wright shouldered that responsibility as he testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies regarding the Air Force’s quality of life March 8.
“The ultimate source of air, space and cyberspace combat capability resides in the men and women of the U.S. Air Force,” Wright said. “We must put them first as they face the challenges inherent in serving in the profession of arms.”
During the hearing, Wright updated the subcommittee on the welfare, readiness and morale of Airmen. He answered questions on specialty credentialing, critical infrastructure projects, concerns within the Defense Department school system and the Exceptional Family Member Program.
Wright said, in order to meet global demands, resource emerging requirements, and repair and sustain the force, the Air Force must increase its active-duty personnel from 254,000 to 321,000 by the end of 2017.
“We are the smallest Air Force that we’ve ever been, and there are many challenges that come with the high-ops tempo and the multiple deployments to the many places we help defend around the globe,” Wright said. “That’s why the increase we’re trying to get to is critical.”
Pay and compensation uncertainties are also cause for concern, as the current fiscal year’s National Defense Authorization Act seeks changes to financial benefits – specifically basic allowance for housing.
“This would reverse nearly 20 years of deliberate legislative action to ensure service members are appropriately compensated for their service, and that their salaries remain competitive with private-sector professionals,” Wright said. “While we remain mindful of current budget pressures across the Defense Department, cost savings needs to be tempered by the need to retain our talent, which is truly a national asset.”
The Air Force must also focus on its child care and spouse employment challenges.
“We continue to explore opportunities to strengthen our force,” Wright said. “While some initiatives are force wide, others are more targeted, but all have the same objective – to provide commanders with the most well-trained, deliberately developed Airmen and the most resilient Airmen and families.”
By Staff Sgt. Alyssa C. Gibson , Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs