Changes ahead for Ellsworth Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. Trent H. Edwards
  • 28th Mission Support Group commander
We are at a historic economic juncture for the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the nation at large. Without question, the financial issues that face the nation will directly impact the Air Force and shape our future construct--how we organize, train, equip and resource the force. They will impact quality-of-life services we provide Airmen and families. They will impact how we task organizations to conduct day-to-day operations and fight conventional and unconventional wars. Economic issues will impact our role as a joint and coalition partner in an increasingly complex international security environment.

As significant as these issues are, they may seem distant to Airmen at baselevel operations. However, each of us will be asked to look at opportunities to conduct our jobs more effectively and efficiently . We must look at opportunities to reduce overhead and realign and consolidate mission and economic resources. We must achieve efficiencies and still maintain operational capability and our Air Force core competencies.

The 28th Mission Support Group will be significantly challenged to streamline its civilian workforce, restructure its Non-Appropriated Fund (NAF) activities and reduce its infrastructure footprint. The MSG is also the focal point to implement housing privatization.

I would like to take a moment to explain our game plan. First, we recognize the value of our Air Force civilians and NAF employees and our goal is to remain transparent throughout the entire civilian workforce shaping process. We will share information with our workforce and keep them abreast of Air Force-wide policy changes and specific impacts to civilian positions. We will communicate openly to all employees as we step through various stages of the DoD-wide civilian hiring freeze , Voluntary Early Retirement and Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay programs . These are difficult times and families will be impacted by tough decisions that lie ahead. Unless we are prohibited by non-disclosure actions, we will communicate and share information in a manner that gives all of our employees as much advance notice as possible about future workforce shaping impacts.

Secondly , we will take a hard look at our NAF facilities and balance quality-of-life services to Airmen and families with our ability to operate them in a self-sustaining manner. We will consolidate operations where it makes sense and preserve others that provide the best services to our Airmen. Where appropriate, we will look to our local community partners to provide the same or better level of service. We are already working with the local community and the governor's office to leverage public partnerships and capitalize on some of installation and community integration concepts. The good news is that we NAF leadership members are included in the process and have direct input on how we consolidate our NAF operations and still maintain quality services.

We have a successful track record for implementing public partnerships. Last year we successfully transferred excess Ellsworth property to the South Dakota Economic Development Authority to enhance the quality of life for the local community and Ellsworth Airmen and f amilies. Fifty-three acres total--20 acres to build a new elementary school in Box Elder and 33 acres to develop a Box Elder city center with shops and restaurants.

Thirdly , the Air Force mandates a 20 percent reduction in facility infrastructure and a 20 percent reduction in operating costs by the year 2020. Ellsworth is well on the way to achieving this goal. Between 2006 and 2011, we reduced our square footage by 25 percent. We reduced the number of buildings we maintain by 41 percent, from about 1,200 buildings just five years ago to just 736 now. We will continue to consolidate operations, demolish costly antiquated infrastructure and ensure new m ilitary c onstruction projects are built to high-energy and environmental standards.

Finally, in 2012, Ellsworth will begin transitioning to housing privatization. We are allowing a private company to operate and maintain military family housing in Prairie View and Rushmore Heights. The private contractor will also build 214 new housing units over the next three to five years, giving Ellsworth a total of 497 homes available as on-base housing. The base will publish more articles and provide additional information on housing privatization in the coming year as well as conduct town hall meetings to further discuss how residents will be affected.

It is important to note that Centennial Estates is not part of housing privatization. The Air Force is not responsible for the operation and maintenance of Centennial Estate homes. The homes presently reside within the base fence line but will be fenced off from the installation in the summer of 2012. The base continues to enjoy a strong and positive working relationship with the on-site Hunt property management office to smartly keep Centennial Estates residents informed during this upcoming transition period.

Sharing information and communicating issues that will affect the wing over the next 12 to 24 months is important. The national and Air Force level issues we face will take a total team effort to transition the base to a more efficient and effective way of accomplishing our mission. We look forward to the challenges and keeping our Airmen combat ready and still providing superior quality of life services to our families.