By AARON MEHTA
Last year, the US Air Force created the Total Force Task Force (TF2), charged with providing guidance on how to bring the active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve components back together after a year of public fights over the service’s missions and budgets.
Working under Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, three two-star generals — Mark Bartman, representing the Guard; Brian Meenan, representing the Reserve; and John Posner on behalf of the active-duty component — spent most of 2013 coming up with recommendations and plans for how the Air Force can move forward as an integrated service.
Those included analytical tools for budget planning, changes to staffing sizes and possible revisions to US federal laws.
With their recommendations made last fall to the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, the TF2 has transitioned into the Total Force Continuum (TFC), a standing office to carry out TF2 recommendations and guide further integration efforts.
The decision to create the TFC came about during the TF2 process, Moeller said during a Jan. 14 interview.
“When we started with the task force, the idea was they would reach conclusions and then we would turn it over to the staff,” Moeller said. “As we went through the task force’s work, what we found was this needs to be a living, breathing entity.”
“It’s a mindset,” added Maj. Gen. Joseph Balskus, the military assistant to Moeller who has experience in all three components of the service. “You don’t have to have a definitive end.”
As a result, there isn’t one official, final document from TF2. Instead, the group briefed Welsh and then-Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning on recommendations.
Moeller broke down the recommendations into three categories. The first are actions that can be carried out immediately, including taking a new analytical tool developed by TF2 and using it to influence the 2016 budget planning process.
In the second category are recommendations the Air Force can perform itself, but will need time to implement.
As an example, TF2 recommended taking a look at “all the major headquarters staffs of the Air Force and integrate them into a total force,” Moeller said. “That’s going to take time, and we have to do it right.”
In the third category are recommendations that require outside influence to tackle. The federal laws that underpin the Air Force Reserve and Guard structures — Title 10 and Title 32 in the US Code, respectively — create barriers to an integrated force, and TF2 recommended a number of potential long-term changes.
Moeller pointed to how the active force and Air Guard flying hour programs have separate funding streams. That means two pilots working together on an associated mission might not have the same number of flying hours available to them.
“That’s a good example of a legal constraint that we have to work through the policy,” he said. “It’s one that just doesn’t make sense if we’re going to move forward.”
Bigger than the findings of the TF2 could be the cultural shift Moeller said has occurred since the office was started up — most notably, the inclusion of the Air Guard and Reserve in the planning process for the service’s 2015 budget request. The service assembled a sequestered budget with heavy cuts expected in multiple programs.
“This year, we involved two of the [Air Guard adjutants general] from the very beginning in our POM [program objective memorandum] development process,” he said. “It was an integrated, total force approach from the start to finish. It’s a fundamental change, and it is permanent.
“We will not conduct these major processes unless it’s a total force effort,” Moeller said. “Absolutely, an institutional requirement. That’s based on our success in this environment from building the FY 2015 sequestered POM. We could not have done it unless we did it as a total force.
“It is not a direct result of the work the TF2 did, but it’s a result of the mentality shift created by the secretary and the chief when they stood up the task force.”
Balskus noted that Moeller and Welsh have both reached out to the adjutants general in the past, and that new Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James plans to do the same, an improvement in communications from the Pentagon.
“From the very beginning, they encouraged us to bring the adjutants general in, not just for TF2 but the POM process,” Balskus said.
The service tapped Brig. Gens. Thomas Gibson, Ronald Miller and Jon Mott to spearhead the TFC. But Moeller said the decision to helm the TFC with one-star generals shouldn’t be seen as a demotion for the office, but rather an administrative necessity reflecting the move to an action organization.
“From an administrative standpoint, it was the right thing to do to align them within the staff so there’s no confusion about the taskings,” he said. “It’s the most efficient way to do it. The reporting chain didn’t change a bit.”
The office, which came together in early December, will have about 20 full-time staff members.
Part of TF2’s job was to support the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, a panel mandated by Congress that was formed after the bruising 2013 budget battles.
Chairman Dennis McCarthy described the members of TF2 as “very forthcoming” in appearances before his commission, which is set to unveil its findings at the end of this month.
“They testified twice,” he said. “I think their testimony, what they told us about their work, was very useful.”
How the TF2 recommendations will mesh with those of the commission has been an open question since the Air Force stood up the office. Moeller acknowledged the commission’s findings could affect TFC’s work, but denied there is any concern.
“We’re going to take the report from the commission, the TFC is going to dissect it, and if there are differences and it’s a better way to implement the findings and recommendations, we’re going to do it,” he said. “If there is a finding or a recommendation that TFC is not working on already, I guarantee we’re going to build an implementation plan to take that