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Wing to benefit from SECDEF’s decision

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Almost immediately following the resignations of Michael Wynne and Gen. C. Michael Moseley, Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff respectively, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced proposed cuts in Air Force personnel would be curtailed.

Stating his desire to ease the burden reduced staffing has created for some Airmen and their families, Secretary Gates recently told Airmen at Langley Air Force Base, Va., he intends "immediately to stop further reductions in Air Force personnel."

And that, according to Lt. Col. Matthew Wallace, commander, 45th Force Support Squadron, is very good news for the 45th Space Wing.

Colonel Wallace said the Air Force was at an end-strength of approximately 340,000 Airman four years ago, and had dropped to 328,000 this year. In that 12,000-authorization cut, our wing was reduced approximately 50 military spaces (PBD 720). U.S. Air Force end strength was expected to be 316,000 (or another 12,000 reduction) by the end of fiscal year 2009 - potentially reducing the 45th Space wing by an additional 50-60 spaces - or an approximate 12% reduction of military spaces over a four-year period.

"In reality, we (45th Space Wing) could've lost as many as 12 percent of our military spaces over both manpower reduction drills. This decision at least keeps our wing at the 7 percent already executed reduction and does not take us down further. All the cuts we have taken - at least for now - are it. Earlier this year I was told by Air Force Space Command personnel authorities to 'be prepared for the mother of all force shaping programs in FY09,'" he said. "And that was their quote ... not mine."

"But now with Secretary Gates' decision - and hard work from the powers-who-be, we won't have to worry about it - AFPC recently announced their plans to cancel all force shaping reduction programs for FY09," he said.

Colonel Wallace reiterated the importance - and significance - of how Secretary Gates' decision will make more of a local difference than many may think.

"For the past several years, we've been continually asked to 'to do more with less and witnessed shrinking military "bodies", and we've been doing a very good job of making that happen because of the great people we retain in our Air Force," Colonel Wallace said. "But a 12 percent aggregate reduction over four years would've been very hard to deal with at every level."

"So it was great news to hear that we should be getting our end strength stabilized. Secretary Gates' decision is extremely significant to smaller Air Force bases like our 45th Space Wing. Reducing manpower without reducing the requirement will eventually break our human capital bank," he said.

While force reductions will be halted, other force shaping measures are still necessary to balance the force, said Col. Chuck Armentrout, chief of the military force policy division at the Pentagon.

The first step for Air Force manpower programmers is to identify the right sets of people and skills needed in the increase - focusing primarily on our stressed wartime career fields. Simultaneously, the Air Force will continue to retrain Airmen who are in overage specialties into shortage and stressed career fields.

Officials are also looking at the possibility of initiating a cross-flow program for junior officers -- beginning with a small test group -- to explore the possibility of retraining officers currently in overage career fields.

The personnel increases that do take place will be targeted toward new and emerging missions, and high-demand areas," said Colonel Armentrout.

"We're not talking large numbers here," he said. "We're talking about staying where we are [in terms of personnel numbers] for 2009, and then increasing slightly to 330,000 in 2010," he said.

"Obviously, there will be no reduction in force, voluntary separation pay or selective early retirement boards for 2009, but we will continue to shape the force using other force shaping tools already in place," said Colonel Armentrout. "We'll continue programs to retain people in the 'in-demand' skills, retrain when possible and target accessions toward those skills."

(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, contributed to this story.)