WASHINGTON -- The Air Force is implementing a coordinated plan to resume public outreach and community engagements at a reduced capacity as a result of a multi-service working group.
The plan, approved by the Secretary of Defense, promotes a formalized, joint approach to national engagement and represents a new normal for outreach operations across the services, according to Wendy Varhegyi, the Air Force public affairs engagement division chief.
Two popular, high-visibility programs, the Thunderbirds and Wings of Blue aerial demonstration teams, will return with full seasons. However, the Air Force will not resume a public flyover program across the country, nor will there be Air Force static display aircraft at civilian air shows.
“The decision was made after months of coordination between the services and is, we believe, the fiscally responsible way to reconnect with the American public,” Varhegyi said. “We may, however, see some slight modifications to the plan as the year progresses.”
Funeral flyovers are not affected by this plan and will continue to be coordinated through normal procedures.
For the Thunderbirds, a full season will consist of 34 shows divided between civilian and military events, while the Wings of Blue Jump Team will participate in up to 33 shows, including Air Force Academy football games. Schedules are expected to be confirmed in December.
The Air Force 2014 outreach plan cuts overall spending by approximately 54 percent from the 2012 levels but still allows the Air Force an opportunity to engage with the American public.
“Community and public outreach is a crucial activity for the Air Force because we must connect with the people we serve and highlight the capabilities of the Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, the Air Force public affairs director. “Historically the Air Force participates in thousands of local and national events every year, including approximately 1,000 flyovers. Under the new plan, those small scale flyovers will cease. Instead, the Thunderbirds will fly over a limited number of national-level events.”
The Department of Defense has struggled to conduct outreach operations since sequestration hit March 1. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently wrote in a memorandum to service chiefs that this has resulted in a lapse of communication with nearly half a billion people worldwide.
While Hagel wrote that returning to pre-sequester outreach spending is not viable, he believes the current plan “is proactive, comprehensive, fiscally responsible and strategically sound. It matches our limited outreach assets against departmental priorities and provides us the best opportunity to gain the highest returns on our investment.”
Other Air Force assets expected to continue limited activity include Air Force bands. Because travel restrictions have been lifted, the regional bands will resume public performances across their area of responsibility and The Air Force Band will go on tour as planned, though travel budgets are capped at 50 percent of 2012 expenditures.
The Air Force will also continue to engage with local communities on a grassroots level through installation open houses, participation during sporting events and community and civic activities.
Sequestration is ongoing and the department will continue to be subject to financial constraints, however, outreach activities serve to educate and reinforce public trust and confidence in the Air Force, and are essential.
“We understand not everyone will be happy with the plan DOD has put forth,” Kodlick said. “But it is vital the American people know about America’s Air Force -- who we are and what we do. These engagements, although limited, enable us to do that.”