‘Brown bag’ forum offers answers for NCOs

Nate Cairney
Kaiserslautern American

In the cavernous Ramstein North Chapel annex, the sounds of crinkling lunch bags gradually gave way to a free-flowing conversation about force shaping, Air Force Smart Operations 21 and more in the second edition of the “Brown bag” NCO forum Jan. 11.

***image1***The forum was established late last year by Senior Master Sgt. Brian Stombaugh, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Inspector General’s office, who envisioned it as an informal way for NCOs to get straight answers to any questions they may have.

“Our goal is to make people comfortable,” he said. “We don’t want them to be responsible for anything other than increasing their knowledge.”

And, according to Chief Master Sgt. Jim Davidson, USAFE First Sergeant, the promise of the forum rests in its openness. “Nothing’s off limits,” he said. “As long as (the questions are) respectful.”

Following an introductory briefing from force shaping expert Senior Master Sgt. Dawn Collao, USAFE A1 force development superintendent, several Airmen peppered questions at the senior NCOs.

Concerns were raised as to how force shaping programs like DOS rollbacks and Limited Active Duty Service Commitments would impact NCOs. According to Sergeant Collao, most of those affected by force shaping already know about it, since affected personnel will be out of the service by September 2007.

That doesn’t mean non-affected Airmen should rest lightly, said Sergeant Davidson. “You need to manage your career or the Air Force will manage it for you,” he said, as the discussion turned toward other initiatives like force retraining.

As the forum progressed, questions were also raised regarding budgets for PCS moves, AFSO 21 and how force shaping will affect the total war effort in Iraq. The senior NCOs continually stressed that flexibility and dialogue are keys to successfully navigating today’s Air Force.

“Lots of (Air Force Specialty Codes) are going away, so people need to be flexible with career fields,” said Sergeant Davidson. “And communication is the key to being successful in the Air Force.”

Interest in the brown bag forum seems to be growing. The population doubled from the first to the second one.  Sergeant Stombaugh, for one, hopes the trend continues. “The purpose of the forum is to discuss what’s on the mind of the enlisted Airman,” he said.

According to Sergeant Stombaugh, discussion topics are decided by Airmen in the audience: the idea to talk about force shaping, for instance, was brought up in the first forum. Interested participants should contact him at brian.stombaugh@ramstein.af.mil to discuss future topics.