A readiness conversation with Chief Hutchison

  • Published
  • By by 1st. Lt. Emily Rautenberg
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

“For most of us, all we know is an Air Force at war,” said Chief Master Sgt. Harold L. Hutchison.

Hutchison, the command senior enlisted leader, North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, visited the 514th Air Mobility Wing for the 8th Annual Mentoring Workshop Aug. 12-13 to talk with fellow attendees about mission readiness.

Hutchison began by handing his microphone to the audience, encouraging attendees to ask questions as he spoke and maintained a fluid dialogue.

“I’ve been in the Air Force for 31 years and for only four of those years we were not at war,” he told the crowd.

“I spent more than 1,200 days deployed in the area of responsibility,” Hutchison said. “How many of these types of mentoring events do you think I attended?”

Hutchison held up his hand in an “O” shape.

“Zero,” he said. “And I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. That’s why it’s important to make time for these events.”

When he first joined the Air Force, Hutchison recalled deploying to places like Germany and England, nowhere like the deployments of Iraq and Afghanistan today. He remembered that shortly after deploying to Iraq, he wasn’t prepared for it.

“The places we deploy to today, in most cases, are dangerous,” he said. “I wish I had prepared myself a little better for reality. Are you prepared? Have you prepared yourself personally, professionally and mentally?”

Highlights of his discussion are below:


What is being done to give Airmen better training?

In regards to new readiness training, Hutchison said more training is on its way.

“If the budget I saw is signed into law, we will see an increase in the Department of Defense budget this year, but changes will not happen overnight. It will take a while to recover from the years of budget reductions and operating under continuing resolutions from year to year. 

According to Hutchison, there were approximately 134 fighter wings during the Gulf War, versus 55 today.

“I’m hopeful that our readiness levels will go back to where they need to be,” he said.


How does the shift between three separate components, Active Duty, Reserve, and Guard, to one unified Air Force affect us?

“In 1986, I might have been able to tell where someone was from,” Hutchison said. “We’d have different equipment, training, etc.”

That’s no longer the case.

“Our policies that drive the Guard and Reserve were established in the 70s,” he stated. “In the 70s, when we were a ‘strategic reserve.’”

The Air Force typically had six months to train its personnel, get everyone up to speed, and then deploy them.

“Now, we have an operational reserve,” says Hutchison.


What plans are there to change the way we do training?

“We are looking at all those things that waste an Airman’s time,” Hutchison said.

There are over 1,300 operations instructions currently being reviewed in an effort to consolidate and condense. Of course, this is going to take some time. Hutchison told everyone that senior leadership is looking to the new generation of Airmen to help facilitate change and come up with solutions.

“The key is being innovative in trying to do things better, quicker and faster,” he said. “This comes from lieutenants, captains, staff sergeants. This doesn’t come from the colonels and the chiefs.”


How does having half of the deployed force be made up of reservists and guardsmen change the way civilian employers see us?

After 9/11, Hutchison recalls, employers were very supportive of their reservists and guardsmen deploying. After 18-20 years of war though, it makes sense for those employers to ask what’s going on.

Hutchison believes creating a more reliable and certain schedule for Airmen to give to their employers is key in strengthening the military’s relationships with civilian employers.

“We have to be able to be more predictable,” he says.


Do you think budget cuts have contributed to the growing threat?

“Other Nations are becoming more capable,” Hutchison said. “It is a dangerous time when we are equal. We never want it to be a fair fight. We should never settle on being in a fair fight.”

“We have got to increase our readiness and be prepared to fight any day.”

Hutchison echoed the words Col. David Pavey, the 514th AMW commander, and many others around the wing have been saying lately.

“Our job as Airmen is to be ready, because if we aren’t, and the enemy is, we will be in a bad situation,” he said. “We have to be ready to do what we have to do.”


Who was your best mentor and what did they do to keep you engaged?

“He was a crusty old master sergeant,” Hutchison said with a grin.

He recalled his time as a young Airman when this NCO took an interest in him.

“Buddy, let’s go to the smoke pit,” the master sergeant said.

“I don’t smoke,” Hutchison said.

“I didn’t ask you if you smoked,” said the master sergeant.

“And we went to the smoke pit once a day, and sat and talked,” Hutchison said.

The questions he asked, and how they were worded, Hutchison said, were very important. They were things like, “What are you doing about school?” and “I saw the new rims on your car, where’d that money come from?”

“He was getting to know me,” he said. “And after a year and half, or two years, he really knew who I was.”

When he was 23, Hutchison broke up with the girl he had been dating since he was 15. He said it was a very significant moment in his life, and he was in a situation he had never dealt with before. He didn’t tell his mentor about the breakup right away.

“But he knew something was wrong,” Hutchison said.

That master sergeant knew something was wrong because he had taken the time to get to know Hutchison on a personal level and learn what he was like.

“He cared about me as a person,” he said. “If I didn’t trust him, if it was not genuine, I wouldn’t have told him anything.”

Hutchison turned this back around to the attendees.

“Now, if I don’t know what normal looks like in an Airman’s life, when abnormal happens, how would I recognize it?” Hutchison asked. “Where is your smoke pit?”