Sequestration: Are you ready to fight tonight?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Leslie Hauck
  • 80th Fighter Squadron commander
Is our nation ready to fight the next war? Is the U.S. Air Force ready to fly, fight and win? Are you ready to "take the fight north?"

Answers to these questions rely on knowing yourself, the threat, and having Airmen who are leaders and innovators with the ability to overcome difficult challenges. One of those difficult challenges today is sequestration.

In all likelihood, every Airman has heard of the word "sequestration" and knows what it means. Just a year ago it was a word used in high-level Washington circles, but today its wide-ranging impacts, and second and third-order effects are things that we, as an entire force, haven't fully considered.

Although we currently can log on to the Air Force Portal and see Gen. Larry Spencer, Air Force Headquarters, vice chief of staff, asking us to present innovative ideas, the truth is we also need to realize how big a deal sequestration is, and how all Airmen need to brace for change and leadership challenges.

After a year of being stationed at Kunsan, the Wolf Pack mission is very clear to me; as you reflect on the third question in the opening line (considering you've been at Kunsan more than a day), you should know the Wolf Pack response: "WOLFPACK!"

Our mission is well-defined due to a specific threat, our proximity to it, and our alliance with the Republic of Korea. However, Airmen in other regions don't have the advantage, nor are they able to train to a single threat. In this sense, we are lucky to be in Korea, and we are also lucky the Department of Defense and the Air Force has prioritized our mission -- it means money will keep flowing to the Wolf Pack, and we will be given resources to maintain readiness.

The same is not true for the rest of our force.

In early April, 2013 the U.S. Air Force stood down about a third of our Combat Air Forces due to sequestration. This means squadron pilots stopped flying and maintainers stopped turning wrenches, losing tactical prowess and basic proficiency. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable, but today it's reality, and last week the reality of sequestration hit home for my squadron, and my eyes opened to what's going on in the rest of the Combat Air Forces due to sequestration.

A week after a going away party for a squadron pilot, and two days prior to him flying out for Aviano Air Base, Italy, effects of sequestration forced his reassignment to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Aviano simply didn't have enough flying hours to train this pilot and if he'd permanent change of station there, he would lose all his currencies 80 days prior to attending a very demanding weapons instructor course at Nellis AFB, Nev.

While much of the same grounding is happening at Shaw, he stood a better chance of getting "farmed out" to other East Coast National Guard units for flights. The captain's situation showed me manning is changing up to the last minute, and the U.S. Air Force is just now considering how to balance instructors, flight leads, and wingman, and how many we will have NOT "built" over the "to be determined" months of sequestration.

The U.S. Air Force has been consistently asked to support operations across the globe--Libya, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, just to name a few, and we've immediately responded. But, with sequestration, this has changed. U.S. Air Force leaders will still incite positive attitudes and train as best possible, but we will have a third less combat-ready Airmen. Congress and our commander in chief must know we now have less capability and will not be able to train to ill-defined threats with limited resources.

Grappling with the assignment process and flying currencies are just a small part of the next level of sequestration, and it will take Airmen standing unified and strong, and being innovative to overcome and continue our rank as the premier Air Force in the world.

Leaders must rise to meet additional commitments and emphasize that our nation is now forced to accept more risk. While the innovative part is difficult to define (we've been trying to do things smarter and save money for years,) we can all keep a positive attitude and trust that our higher-level leaders are voicing the serious negative effects from sequestration. Informing the young pilot that he was being reassigned from a dream European assignment was difficult, but his positive outlook and attitude made me realize that we all must stand together and take a part in clearing the hurdles that are soon to come.