Incoming, outgoing top enlisted airmen see challenges ahead
July 4, 2006
ARLINGTON, Va. – July 1 was a day of parallel endings and beginnings in the high altitude of senior Air Force leadership, as Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray retired after 29 years of military service and passed both his jacket and his post to Chief Master Sgt. Rodney McKinley.
The back-to-back retirement for Murray and promotion ceremony for McKinley took place at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where the sun, heat, and high humidity recalled the weather at McKinley’s last posting: command chief master sergeant for Pacific Air Forces at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
McKinley is the 15th person to hold the chief master sergeant of the Air Force job.
As the service’s top enlisted airman, McKinley now service as a personal advisor to both Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne on all issues that involve enlisted airmen and their families.
He is also the official “voice” of the enlisted corps, and represents its interests throughout the government, before Congress, and to the American public.
With the torch now passed to his successor, Murray is moving with his spouse to the Atlanta area, where both have extended family.
But before leaving, on June 26 Murray sat down in his almost-packed office alongside McKinley to talk to Stripes.
Murray discussed his concerns and accomplishments over the past four years, while McKinley commented on his perspectives coming into the job, and his plans for his own tenure.
The War on Terror
McKinley’s principal focus “will be no different than our focus for the past four years: the priority is the war,” Murray said.
“The thing that has really affected my tenure…is that we are focused on combat,” Murray said. “The Air Force has over 50,000 airmen deployed, primarily in the Middle East, but all around the world,” he said.
“And what that has meant to our airmen and their families is increased deployment tempo, combat duty, the need for [higher] readiness of the force, and more sacrifices on our families. And at the same time, the need for the support of our families has come to the forefront.”
McKinley said he’s ready to tackle the job, thanks to the men and women who make up the enlisted force.
“The airmen we have in our Air Force, in my opinion, is the best airmen we’ve ever had,” he said. “They’re doing things we never dreamed about doing. We never thought about doing convoys, and having the warrior ethos we have in the Air Force today, and will continue to have,” McKinley said.
“We are evolving, and we will continue to evolve, and be of a more warrior mind-set in the future.”
Both men said that along with the war, high on the list of Air Force priorities is the “force shaping” program to reduce the Air Force by 40,000 total personnel by fiscal 2011.
Officials plan to channel the freed-up funds into upgrading its aging fleet of fighters, tankers and other aircraft.
In fiscal 2006, the first year of the plan, the Air Force's active-duty roster is supposed to be cut by from 347,624 today to 334,200 airmen by Oct. 1, 2006 – a loss of 13,424 airmen.
Another 2,000 civilian positions are due to be cut in fiscal 2006.
The cuts come on top of the 16,500 airmen cut from the force in 2006 to meet Congressional limits.
The upcoming personnel cuts are necessary, McKinley said, because “a smaller, more lethal force” will be necessary in order to maintain air dominance in future wars.
“There are a lot of questions out there [about] … why we are doing this wartime,” McKinley said.
“It’s not about just are we prepared today to go out and fight and win with the aircraft we have,” he said. “We have to think about the future, and that’s to have air superiority. If we lose that, if we don’t recapitalize get more modern aircraft and systems that will maintain it, then it puts every troop on the ground in danger.”
McKinley said he is very aware that the downsizing process will be difficult on the force.
“There’s going to be some pain, but we’re going to get through it,” he said. “We have to have some faith in our leadership, and we have to listen up and down the chain to the airmen’s concerns and make sure we go back and give them the proper information.”
In addition to cutting positions outright, the force-shaping plan also involves moving airmen from overmanned jobs into positions — such as interpreters or military police — that are undermanned and in high demand.
To get that job done, Air Force officials intend to use programs that were resurrected during Murray’s tenure, the outgoing chief said.
“I came to the air staff here [in 2002] and helped drive us to turn back on force-shaping programs that we had abandoned — career job reservations, NCO retraining, adjustments in promotions, adjustments in high-year tenures,” Murray said. “I saw the need in having [these tools] available to us to balance the force.”
All of these rebalancing programs will be necessary over the course of the Air Force’s force-shaping program in order for the downsizing to be successful, Murray said.
“You cannot rest on just one.”
However, “the first and best place to balance the force is through the CJR,” or Career Job Reservation program, Murray said.
First used in the 1990s and re-instated in May 2004, the CJR is a program for first-term airmen limiting the number of open spots in over-manned specialties.
Airmen who want to reenlist in such jobs are placed on a waiting list and “rank ordered” according to performance to compete monthly for available CJR quotas.
If an airman has not gotten a CJR in the job he or she wants by the end of the reenlistment window, he or she will have to decide whether to retrain into a shortage career field, or leave the Air Force.
“The younger you can retrain someone, the more you get out of them,” Murray said. “The return on investment is much greater than to retrain a senior airman.”
McKinley, who is no stranger to involuntary retraining (he’s done it twice, see SIDEBAR), said he knows that the prospect is causing heartburn among many enlisted airmen.
“It’s a period of time for the next couple of years where a lot of people are going to worry a little bit about what their futures are going to be,” McKinley said. “There’s going to be some pain, some adjustments.”
“But change will end up making us a better Air Force.”
The Air Force’s new focus on health and fitness is beginning to pay off handsomely, Murray and McKinley agreed.
“We have see use of Air Force fitness facilities increase 30 to 35 percent since January 2004,” Murray said.
Moreover, Air Force commanders of airmen who are deployed in the Middle East “are reporting that stamina is much greater than it was before,” despite the summer heat that can exceed 120 degrees F, Murray said.
Murray attributed the changes to the teeth in the Air Force’s fitness program, which were installed in the summer of 2003.
That’s when Air Force chief of staff Gen. John Jumper announced a new fitness standard that abandoned the service’s stationary bicycle fitness test in favor of a 1.5 miles run, sit-ups, push-ups, and a waist measurement.
Before the change in Air Force standards, “there were [airmen] out there who would go out and walk, and they would walk with a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in other,” McKinley said. “And that was their level of physical fitness, and they’d be fine.”
“But now, you can go to almost any [Air Force] base, and the number of people who are running around the base in Air Force [fitness] uniforms, the number of people who are using the fitness centers – it’s incredible,” McKinley said.
“We’ve now seen 96 percent of our people have been tested, and close to 94 percent are meeting our minimum [fitness] standards,” Murray said. “Now we’re looking to the future, [considering standards] changes that will raise the bar.”
McKinley, who jogs, lifts weights, plays basketball and golf, said he looks forward to keeping up with his fitness routine while working at the Pentagon.
“I also like ice cream, so I have to stay physically fit,” the slim airman said ruefully, patting his belt. “I think it’s important for people in all leadership positions to be seen…being active and physically fit.”
“And he’s about to enter the Air Force Eating Team and be the A-team player of it, in this job,” Murray interjected, describing the endless round of breakfasts, lunches and dinners that top military officials stationed in the Pentagon must attend in the course of their professional duties.
“This job will get you. If I didn’t maintain a routine in the gym… my goodness, it would be so difficult in this job.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley
Born in Georgetown, Ohio, Rodney McKinley joined the Air Force in 1974 as an emergency room technician. He left the service in 1977 to attend nursing school at Saint Leo College in Florida, and then re-enlisted in 1982 as an aircraft maintainer. In 1991, he was switched to the first sergeant career field.
McKinley was serving as the command chief master sergeant for Pacific Air Forces at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, when he was chosen by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley to become the 15th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
Prior to his PACAF posting, McKinley had served as the command chief master sergeant of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany; the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Va.; the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom; and 11th Air Force at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force (retired) Gerald R. Murray
A native of Boiling Springs, N.C., Murray entered the Air Force in October 1977 as an aircraft maintainer, the career field he stayed with throughout his 26 years in the service.
In addition to aircraft maintenance, Murray served as a command chief master sergeant at wing, numbered air force and major command levels.
His overseas assignments included a posting at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, from April 1984 to May 1986 as a senior F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief for the 39th Consolidated Maintenance Squadron, and, late in his career, his assignment from September 1999 to August 2001 as Command Chief Master Sergeant, U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force, Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Murray also deployed to King Faud International Airport and King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia, from August 1990 to March 1991 in support of operation Desert Storm, and later, to Kuwait and then to Bahrain in support of Operation Southern Watch.
Murray was serving as the command chief master sergeant for Pacific Air Forces at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, when he was chosen for the top enlisted job.
He became the 14th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force on July 1, 2002. He retired from the Air Force on Saturday.