18th AF Commander Maj Gen Barrett Talks Readiness and Squadron Vitality

By MAJ RYAN DECAMP, 18th Air Force Public Affairs

When Maj Gen Sam Barrett took the reins of 18th Air Force last summer, he outlined full-spectrum readiness and squadron vitality as two focus areas for the command.

“Full-spectrum readiness highlights the need to be ready for anything,” Barrett said. “Our Air Force has been engaged in steady-state operations since the early 1990s. However, defending America in the future may involve threats such as advanced air defenses, cyber warfare, or chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear effects, so we need to prepare for a wide range of possibilities. We are refining our tactics based on what we’ve seen in the Middle East and on what near-peer adversaries may bring to the table.”

He said squadron vitality allows Airmen to focus on the mission, support their teammates, and have fun in the process, which creates a cohesive team that meets challenges head on. That atmosphere subsequently supports military families and improves retention.

“We are adding Airmen to help meet mission needs and support our squadrons,” he continued. “We have roughly 321,000 active-duty Airmen today and expect to grow to 350,000 by the middle of the next decade.”

The ‘Air Force We Need’ plan, as outlined by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson last fall, called for increasing operational squadrons by more than 20 percent and adding another airlift squadron and 14 tanker squadrons by 2030.

The goal is to build well-manned and healthy squadrons to bring out the best in each Airman, helping each find innovative ways to accomplish the mission.

The two priorities—full-spectrum readiness and squadron vitality—help create healthy squadrons and are equally important, according to Barrett.

“We provide Rapid Global Mobility (RGM) around the world, and we can best do that when our readiness levels are high,” he said. “The healthier squadrons are, the higher readiness levels will be. Plus, healthy squadrons help support families when loved ones are called away from home. This provides peace of mind for Airmen, allowing them to focus on the mission and give our collective team the best opportunity for success. The demand for global mobility takes us to every continent on earth. We need healthy, prepared squadrons, but we don’t want to overwork our teams.”

Senior leaders are addressing concerns about how overworked teams affect families—again, in line with the ‘Air Force We Need’ plan to increase the number of operational squadrons and the number of Airmen.

“We must overcome those challenges and remain ready now and in the future. Here at 18th AF, we have begun to see the effects of how senior leaders addressed manpower concerns. The Air Force added about 10,000 active-duty Airmen the last three years, and the recent budget should fund another 4,700 Airmen, many of whom will support the RGM mission.

“This budget invests in key areas—Airmen, readiness, nuclear deterrence, and air superiority, among others. It funds additional KC-46 aircraft and more research into technologies that help our operational mission down the road.”

Barrett looks forward to continue bringing KC-46s into the fold, as McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, received the service’s first Pegasus January 25.

“In 2018, the Mobility team refueled over 103,000 aircraft,” he continued. “To put that in perspective, that is enough to have provided fuel to every serviceable aircraft on the planet nearly four times. The KC-46 will help us continue fueling joint and international partners. The steps we’re taking will ensure we remain the greatest Air Force on earth while helping Airmen gain balance in their lives.”

Additionally, Barrett encouraged every Airman to make safety a priority.

“The RGM team launches an aircraft every 2.8 minutes. Airmen make that possible, and we need them at their best physically and mentally. We work in dynamic, changing environments. Healthy personnel and vibrant squadrons help divide the mission demand equally and create balance that reduces the chance for safety issues in demanding situations. For every Airman and aircraft to operate safely, we must take care of our people and resources. When we focus on safety, readiness improves—helping us respond to any threat.”

In closing, Barrett shared his confidence for the future.

“The United States is a superpower because we can touch any corner of the globe,” he said. “RGM makes that possible, whether we are responding to crises or moving patients, cargo, or fuel. We do not know where or when the next conflict will occur, but we will be ready. Vibrant, healthy squadrons support readiness and our families, who, in turn, support our ability to be ready and complete the mission. That teamwork gives us the best opportunity for success.”