Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald Murray is visiting Air Force bases in Japan and Okinawa this week.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald Murray is visiting Air Force bases in Japan and Okinawa this week. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Airmen at Yokota, Misawa and Kadena air bases have had the ear, this week and last, of their service’s top enlisted leader.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray is checking up on airmen from Okinawa to northern Japan in a brief Pacific tour that was to end at Kadena on Thursday and Friday.

It’s a chance to “communicate with our airmen and look firsthand at the readiness of our force and the welfare of our airmen,” Murray said Wednesday at Misawa. “It’s also an opportunity for them to hear from senior leadership and what we’re doing in Washington, D.C.”

Murray, the former command chief master sergeant for U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force, met with Misawa airmen in senior and junior noncommissioned-officer calls Tuesday.

Airmen told him they’re happy with leadership’s attention to their quality of life, citing efforts to improve their living areas and recreational opportunities, from Grissom Dining Facility to the new Weasel’s Den, Murray said.

Those areas, however, were “highlighted as concerns as well,” he said. “Misawa … it’s a long way from America.”

The retirement of the Air Force’s C-9 Nightingale medical airlift about two years ago affected opportunities for space-available travel, Murray said. That was “clearly the right decision for the Air Force” but Misawa airmen wish there were more options for less-costly travel to other places in Japan and back to the States, he said.

Murray said he was paying close attention to the effects numerous deployments are having on airmen and their families overseas.

“Many years ago, when you were assigned overseas, that’s where you stayed,” he said. “Now with the size and nature of our force, airmen at Misawa, Yokota and Kadena” are having to deploy around the world and leave their families behind.

About 400 airmen currently are deployed from Misawa, he said. While morale and readiness appear high, “it’s important that we continue to look at the families and understand some of the things that our airmen are concerned about.”

The Air Force chief master sergeant said that on this trip his wife, Sherry, was looking at family care and other support networks on base, and meeting with spouses and organizations that help families. She’s to report her findings at an April spouses’ conference in the States.

During an interview at Misawa, Murray also said the Air Force will meet its goal to reduce the active- duty force by about 24,000 — to get under its authorized level of 360,000 — by the target date of Sept. 30.

“We have suspended any more force-shaping initiatives,” he said, adding that no involuntary reduction-in-forces will be necessary.

Murray said the Air Force this year reduced new recruits by 49 percent, “so instead of recruiting over 37,000 this year we recruited about 18,000.”

Murray added the Air Force is exceeding retention goals for first-term and career airmen. For second-term airmen, 2002 retention goals were surpassed, and “we’re just below that now,” he said.

Murray also defended the Weighted Airmen Promotion System as equitable, just and sound in the wake of the recent suspected cheating scandal involving more than 10 cases across the service.

“The fact that we can tell you about the (suspected) cheating” is because the Air Force caught it and have measures in place to determine whether someone may have cheated, Murray said.

If it’s proved that airmen did cheat, they’ll be dealt with appropriately by their chain of command and “we’ll go back to the people denied promotions and we’ll make adjustments to that,” Murray said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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