By Patrick Ochs
Copyright 2014 The Sun Herald
BILOXI — With a serious strain on the national debt, the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force suggested in a report last week that the branch reduce its number of active airmen to provide relief.
As a result, the Air Force is now looking to reduce its numbers by upwards of 25,000 airmen, which means Keesler Air Force Base could see its force cut by close to eight percent by the end of 2014.
Brig. Gen. Patrick Higby said the report was an effort to be completely up front and transparent about spending challenges facing the Air Force. While he's concerned by the proposed cuts, Higby understands the necessity to find efficient cost savings.
"If you look at our national debt clock, $17 trillion is a pretty big number," he said. "I know our Department of Defense, as important as national security is, we comprise our fair share of that and so we need to now comprise our fair share of what I call the rightsizing to help get that national debt and deficit under control."
In an effort to reduce military spending while not obliterating the Air Force's readiness, 13 force management programs have been unveiled with varying timetables throughout the year. The various programs will "all affect different folks," Higby said. "Some are for officers, some are for enlisted. Some are voluntary programs and some are involuntary programs."
Higby said Keesler has about 1,100 airmen who are eligible for voluntary separation programs, and another 862 who are eligible for involuntary programs. Both involve face-to-face meetings with someone in their chain of command.
One preferred option of the Air Force is for airmen to transition into the Air National Guard or reserves in the hopes of retaining some of its seasoned veterans while simultaneously maintaining a satisfactory level of readiness.