Cortez Masto Urges Senate Armed Forces Committee to Apply Combat-to-Dwell Policy to RPA Community
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) sent a letter to Senate Committee on Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) urging them to work with the Air Force to implement a combat-to-dwell policy for members of the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) community as soon as possible. Senator Cortez Masto applauded the U.S. Air Force for working toward developing a permanent policy, but urged the committee and the Air Force to take steps to reduce stress on the RPA community sooner.
The combat-to-dwell policy, implemented by the George W. Bush Administration, ensures that servicemembers receive adequate noncombat time between tours of duty in combat zones. The policy is intended to mitigate the mental and physical fatigue associated with combat duty. However, members of RPA community are excluded from this policy, despite their engagement in combat, albeit remotely.
The RPA community faces special stresses due to the remote nature of their work. Often their daily duties within the U.S. at places like Nellis or Creech Air Force Bases, both in Nevada, include conducting airstrikes and engaging in combat within warzones, followed by returning to their families the same day. Although they are not physically in warzones, they are regularly engaged in combat missions, including targeted airstrikes against ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, which causes significant mental strain.
“I am encouraged by the Air Force’s goal of implementing a combat-to-dwell policy for the RPA community,” read Senator Cortez Masto’s letter. “I am concerned, however, by the impact the lack of the policy will have on the airmen and women in the interim. It is currently Department of Defense policy that personnel cannot be deployed at a ratio of more than one to one, deploy-to-dwell, without explicit approval by the Secretary of Defense. This policy aims to reduce stress on service and give them and their families a predictable deployment schedule. However, under the current definition, RPA crew personnel are not considered ‘deployed,’ and therefore are exempt from the protections of this policy, even though RPA crew personnel fight in combat every day. I urge the Committee to work with the Air Force to implement a ‘combat-to-dwell’ policy for the RPA community as soon as possible.”
The full text of the letter can be found below.
June 27, 2017
The Honorable John McCain The Honorable Jack Reed
Chairman Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Armed Services Senate Committee on Armed Services
Russell Senate Building, Room 228 Russell Senate Building, Room 228
Washington, D.C. 20510-6050 Washington, D.C. 20510-6050
Dear Chairman McCain and Ranking Member Reed:
As you finalize the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, I am writing to reiterate my interest in ensuring this year’s bill addresses ongoing challenges within to the Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) community.
Your committee has repeatedly expressed concern about the projected shortfalls of pilots and sensor operators for remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). I share those concerns. The RPA community gathers intelligence and conducts airstrikes that are essential to our fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The community also ensures we can detect and deter threats from potential adversaries like Russia and Iran, long before those threats draw us into a full-scale war. These men and women ensure our safety every day. As you know, issues affecting the RPA community are particularly important to me, given the significant role the men and women at Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases in Nevada play in executing this mission.
As you know, the Air Force provides a majority of pilots for the United States’ Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) program. The Air Force has worked aggressively to address these needs, for which I commend the service. Nonetheless, there remains work to be done.
I am encouraged by the Air Force’s goal of implementing a combat-to-dwell policy for the RPA community. I am concerned, however, by the impact the lack of the policy will have on the airmen and women in the interim. It is currently Department of Defense policy that personnel cannot be deployed at a ratio of more than one to one, deploy-to-dwell, without explicit approval by the Secretary of Defense. This policy aims to reduce stress on service and give them and their families a predictable deployment schedule. However, under the current definition, RPA crew personnel are not considered “deployed,” and therefore are exempt from the protections of this policy, even though RPA crew personnel fight in combat every day. I urge the Committee to work with the Air Force to implement a “combat-to-dwell” policy for the RPA community as soon as possible.
I am concerned by the promotion rate of RPA officers. As a 2014 Government Accountability Office report demonstrated, RPA promotions were below average rates from 2006-2013 on most boards. RPA pilots should expect promotion at the same rate as their peers with similar qualifications and expertise in their career fields. I encourage the Committee to work with the Air Force to address this issue.
Finally, I am encouraged by the Air Force’s initiatives aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of the RPA community and encourage the Committee to maintain rigorous oversight of those programs. In 2015, the Air Force launched the “RPA Get-Well Plan” and the Culture and Process Improvement Program (CPIP), to identify the causes of stress in the community and address them. Under CPIP, the Air Force began working toward a 10:1 crew-to-combat line ratio, implementing a 1:0.5 combat-to-dwell ratio, and ensuring the airmen and women in the community have access to mental health professionals, childcare, housing and other services they need. I encourage the Committee to ensure the final stages of the program are implemented on time and with all the resources needed to ensure success.
Thank you for your consideration. Please contact Jamie Morgan in my personal office, should you need any additional information (Jamie_Morgan@cortezmasto.senate.gov).
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