Debunking the myth of “Doing more with less”

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Dobbs
  • 316th Training Squadron commander
It has been nearly seven years since the United States became involved in a global war against radical Islamists who seek to do enormous harm to our nation. Even before the Global War on Terrorism began, the Air Force was engaged in near-continuous contingency operations in Iraq and the Balkans for 11 years. It's alarming to note that, during this incredibly busy 18-year period, our Air Force has shrunk to approximately 320,000 active-duty Airmen - just over half the size of the Air Force that existed during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.

So, how has America's Air Force managed to sustain such an incredible increase in the pace of operations with only half the number of active-duty Airmen? All too often, the response has revolved around the empty slogan of "doing more with less." We've encouraged our Airmen to accept a greatly increased workload in order to overcome the challenges of shrinking resources, decreasing manning levels, longer duty hours, and deployments of increasing duration and frequency.

Our Airmen have reached the point where the mantra of "doing more with less" rings hollow and reveals a perspective that's out of touch with the challenges our Airmen face every day. Airmen throughout the 17th Training Group face mission-related challenges such as conducting major revisions to a broad spectrum of intelligence training courses, executing a Chief of Staff-mandated transformation of intelligence training, preparing for an operational readiness inspection, and sustaining an intensifying pace of wartime deployments. All of these priority efforts are above and beyond the significant workload associated with the core mission for which our manning and resource levels are established: training intelligence professionals.

In addition, our Airmen are responsible for a long list of additional duties and also must complete countless hours of on-line training in topics ranging from protection of the President to combating trafficking in persons to information assurance. Some of these items have little or nothing to do with anything our Airmen are likely to face in the performance of their duties at home station or while deployed. Yet our Airmen must struggle to meet these additional requirements, which detract from core mission accomplishment while doing little to enhance our mission accomplishment or deployment readiness.

Now is the time for leaders at all levels - from first-level supervisors to the top leadership of our Air Force - to debunk the myth of "doing more with less." Let's just tell it like it is: We have fewer (and busier) people, increasingly scarce resources, and less free time - and none of this enables us to do more.

We who serve as leaders and supervisors must balance our "can-do" attitude with a realistic expectation of what of our Airmen can accomplish at current manning and tasking levels. As military professionals, we would never think of disobeying our superiors and refusing to perform a mission we've been assigned. However, what we can and must do is to communicate clearly to our superiors how busy our Airmen are as they strive to accomplish the priority missions our leaders have tasked us to accomplish.
We owe our leaders a candid assessment of our ability to take on additional missions and an estimate of what will fall through the cracks if additional taskings are assigned to our Airmen. We need to push our bosses to tell us which missions are of the highest priority and which ones can move to the back burner for awhile.

Going to our superiors to appeal for relief from taskings is not something to take lightly. It's absolutely essential that we maintain credibility with our leaders by showing them that we truly have done everything possible to accomplish our mission by becoming more efficient and adjusting our level of effort as appropriate. Otherwise, we will lose the trust of our leaders and squander the credibility we will need when it comes time to alert them that our Airmen are reaching their breaking point.

During this incredibly busy time for our Air Force, our Airmen continue to epitomize "Service Before Self" - but we are compromising their ability to demonstrate "Excellence in All We Do."

By piling on additional taskings that don't enhance mission accomplishment or deployment readiness, we are forcing our Airmen to choose between accomplishing every task - several of them in a mediocre manner - and performing the really important missions in an excellent manner while letting other tasks fall through the cracks. That's not a choice we should force our Airmen to make; it amounts to setting them up to fail. That would be a significant failure of leadership.

Instead of continuing to ask our Airmen to do even more with even less, every supervisor and commander owes our Airmen three things: 1) unambiguous guidance concerning what we expect of them; 2) a clear understanding of our top priorities to enable them to focus their efforts on what's most important when they can't possibly accomplish every task we've assigned to them; and 3) "top cover" to deflect needless taskings that don't enhance mission accomplishment or deployment readiness.

I challenge every leader to seize this opportunity to refocus our Airmen's efforts on what's most important and to support them by lifting the unnecessary burden they face every day. By doing so, we will unleash the full potential of our Airmen and enable them to demonstrate why we are the world's premier Air Force.

Our Airmen expect - and deserve - nothing less from their leaders.