Perspective offered on personnel reductions

  • Published
  • By Bob Fant
  • 21st Civil Engineer Squadron
While some readers may recognize my name from environmental articles I have written in the past, today I'd like to offer a little perspective about the personnel drawdown we are about to go through.

As I sat through the civilian call that Col. Chris Crawford, 21st Space Wing commander, held Aug. 30, I was able to think back, as many of us in the room could, on our years working for our United States Air Force.

I spent almost 26 years on active duty as a civil engineer. I had the privilege of commanding three civil engineer squadrons, an expeditionary air base group, and the fire school at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. I have worked in nine different major commands, moved through 11 permanent changes of station, and my wife is very quick to tell you she has lived in 16 different houses. I've been around the Air Force block a couple of times.

What we are about to experience -- another necessary money saving personnel action -- is nothing new. As I was beginning my active service in 1983, the Air Force was coming out of the Vietnam War drawdown and beginning the buildup of the Reagan years. Then with great fanfare and great television coverage, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, and we experienced the "Peace Dividend." Just as the Peace Dividend was beginning to be paid out, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

In case you've lost count, our Air Force has been engaged in warfare in the Middle East in the air and on the ground continuously for more than two decades. After Desert Storm, Gen. Merrill McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff, worked hard to shrink the Air Force. The Air Force changed greatly as did the head count. Air Divisions went away as well as TAC, SAC and MAC, giving way to ACC and AMC. We've had three rounds of base closures. From the late 1980s to 1996 the Air Force shrank from 600,000 military personnel to 388,000. We also had commensurate drops in civilian end strength.

So, after almost 30 years of working for the Air Force, bases have closed, major commands have been shuttered and then reborn, weapon systems have come and gone and others, like the B-52, are pushing 60 years in operation, and thousands of great people served their country admirably. Through all of that, we are now and will continue to be the greatest Air Force the world has ever seen and, quite frankly, will ever see. To quote one of those great Air Force slogans that has come and gone, "No one comes close."

Bottom line: As the events of the upcoming days unfold some of us will go on to a much deserved retirement. Some may leave the Air Force and have tremendous opportunities open for them elsewhere, and there will be those us who stay at Peterson AFB. From my perspective this has happened before, and as before, those left behind will be part of a stronger Air Force, an Air Force better able to respond to the challenges of the future. We've been there, done this and we can do it again.