LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody and his wife, retired Chief Master Sgt. Athena Cody, visited Laughlin Air Force Base from March 31 to April 2. During his visit, he met with Airmen to discuss morale, welfare and the future of the Air Force. Before his departure, the 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs office had the opportunity to sit down with him for a short interview.
Q: CMSAF Cody, in your recent CHIEF chat, you stated that the Air Force will not be looking at the number ratings on the back of the EPR, rather that they will be “looking at ‘do you fit into this word picture; does this word picture describe you as an Airman and your performance?’ ” So when Airmen look at their EPRs in the future, how is this change going to look; will there be a new format or narrative statements instead of bullets?
CMSAF Cody: There will still be bullets, but the number will be fewer. And rather than relying on a numbered system to represent a performance assessment, we’ll use word pictures. The word pictures won’t be over the top; an example would be something simple like, “Meets expectations, exceeds some, or does not meet.” They will be clear word pictures that clearly tell us where Airmen are performing. We’ve also decoupled the performance assessment from the promotion recommendation. The numbers in the current system are a performance assessment and carry a point value that counts toward promotion. In the new system, the performance assessment will no longer directly be the point value that affects promotion. The points toward promotion will come with the promotion recommendation, which Airmen can only receive when they are eligible for promotion. The important distinction is that performance will influence promotion recommendation, but they are not necessarily synonymous. We have a lot of great Airmen that are performing at the highest levels, the reality is we can’t promote them all at the same time.
Q: Mrs. Cody, CMSAF Cody recently asked Congress to repeal the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration in order to preserve programs he considers vital to preserving morale among Airmen and their families stating that he believes quality-of-life initiatives “to be an overwhelming factor in the decision Airmen and their families make to continue serving our nation.” What initiatives do you believe have benefited your family, and are vital to the sustainment of this quality of life?
Mrs. Cody: I don’t think you can say any one initiative has helped our family, because we’ve really leveraged all of them. For us, I think where we started initially was child care. It was the need that opened the door for us to really understand that the military and different organizations were there to support us as a family. All the different agencies that support children, whether it be youth activities and programs, preschool programs, Child Development Centers, before and after school programs, and home care, we have leveraged all of those. As much as we have raised our children, the Air Force has raised our children. And they are great kids, great adults that are successful in life. That in and of itself, to us, is most important. All our family programs are important to sustaining families and ensuring the Airman is able to serve.
Q: CMSAF Cody, the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes each military branch to select up to 20 officers and 20 enlisted members each calendar year to take a sabbatical and seamlessly return to their active-duty or Air Reserve component role. Is the Air Force targeting a specific AFSC, category of Airman, time of service, or other like indicators with this program?
CMSAF Cody: We aren’t targeting any specific career field, but we are looking at our highest-potential Airmen. There is a board process by which Airmen submit an application, and we look for Airmen we feel have the greatest potential to serve in our military, but may have some scenario going on in life where a break in service would help them take care of that — scenarios such as having a child, an ailing parent or educational goals. There are a variety of circumstances that could happen in our lives and we may not want to give up our military service, but given those circumstances we decide to separate. Our Air Force loses quality Airmen, because they have to make those life choices. This program gives us the opportunity to select these quality Airmen that have the highest potential for service and allow them to take this time and come back without finding themselves behind in their career. This is another tool we’ll use to continue to retain and support Airmen.
Q: How will this program benefit the Air Force mission long-term?
CMSAF Cody: Long-term, it is a return on investment. There comes a time in their career where Airmen must make life choices. We invested a lot in them and they invested a lot in their career, but because things happen in life to where they can’t serve, we lose that investment. That’s a lost opportunity with that Airman. These are Airmen that if we gave them just this amount of time to take care of what they need to, they can come back and serve a life time and be successful in a career, and we get to leverage that as an Air Force. That’s capability for the force.
Q: Mrs. Cody, with regards to the Key Spouse Program, you have stated that “you believe that you recruit Airman but retain families” and that “the Air Force benefits from every spouse that steps up.” What are some specific examples that display how the program is working towards retaining families?
Mrs. Cody: In the military, as a community, we get married and take young people out of an environment, home or city that they know and are where they are very comfortable. Civilians that marry military members end up moving to a new location that appears to be exciting. With a new life and new marriage, they arrive and find out very quickly that it’s overwhelming, very intimidating and sometimes lonely. They lose a sense of that independence and confidence that they had where they came from. It’s upon the military member to really understand that they have a responsibility to plug their significant other into this community. This means they have to actively participate in taking them to the Airman and Family Readiness Center and signing them up for heart link and to meet their key spouse. If they don’t, sometimes those relationships don’t work. Key spouses can mentor new spouses and partners in this community so that they regain that sense of community and independence. If we don’t mentor them, they won’t blossom, they don’t thrive and they usually go home at the cost of marriage.
CMSAF Cody: It’s recognized by our Air Force that you need a support structure. Unless you come from this lifestyle, when you walk into it, it can be overwhelming. The Key Spouse provides an immediate connection and support structure to what you’re a part of, the Air Force family. And if you have a strong family, you can have a strong career.
Q: CMSAF Cody, as you know, Laughlin graduates the world’s best pilots, and the enlisted Airmen of this base work diligently to ensure their role in that mission is done with the upmost professionalism and excellence. Besides their jobs, what should our enlisted Airmen at every level be doing each day, with respect to mentoring junior officers, that inspires their growth and professionalism and what do you think the enlisted core should learn from the junior officers they work with each day?
CMSAF Cody: It’s a fundamental responsibility of our Senior NCOs to mentor officers but there is an opportunity here for all of the Airmen, with the exposure that you’re having with these young pilots, Air Force officers who will eventually move out of the cockpit and into more leadership roles. At some point in pilot training, the enlisted force will get a chance to interact with them, and pilots get to spend time with the enlisted force seeing what the enlisted force does in their technical jobs. It’s a unique opportunity where you can show them your job and how it ties in to what they are going through. Most of you know your jobs and are really good at it, you can connect them with the importance of everything that supports the development of world class Air Force pilots.
These officers are the next generation of leaders in our Air Force. You can learn a lot from them — how they think about things, how they are evolving and developing. You can help them connect with our core values, help them connect with what it means to be an Airman first and understand the enlisted force’s expectations of Air Force officers. We have this opportunity to set these officers up for success and create a foundation for this exceptional and respectful relationship where we value each other.
However, we can mess it up by not treating them with the respect they have earned, that every Airman should have, and not helping them be successful. It’s not about impressing them with how smart you are, it’s about making them better and in turn you become better at what you do.