Missing in Action: Where Are the Air Force's Geographic Combatant Commanders
Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States
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Since 1947, there have been five Air Force officers selected to command a Geographic Combatant Command GCC. Although arguably overrepresented in Functional Combatant Commands, the dearth of Air Force officers among the GCCs is a troubling phenomenon. By way of comparison, six Marine Corps officers have been selected to lead a GCC since 1986. This thesis examines the duration and significance of the Air Forces problem the causes internal to the Air Force that influence GCC selection and the external perceptions of the Air Force through the perspectives of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and national leaders. This study concludes that the Air Forces rhetoric has frequently not matched its reality. In other words, the Air Force often says one thing and does another. This perception is based on a comparison of the Air Forces declared values in documents such as the Airmans Creed with its operative values, such as its infatuation with the doctrinal role of the Joint Force Air Component Commander. These inconsistencies adversely affect external perceptions of the Air Force. The perceptions of sister-service personnel influence, to some degree, the perceptions of national leaders who, ultimately determine who is selected to command the GCCs. Through differences in perspectives of time and space and through historical dealings with Airmen and the Air Force, the sister-services have developed common and service-specific perceptions of the Air Force, some of which are positive and others of which are negative. Similarly, national leaders hold varying perspectives on Airmen based on the Air Forces performance since 1947.In summation, the Air Force must act directly to effect internal changes that will indirectly reinforce the positive perceptions of external actors in the GCC selection process while mitigating their negative perceptions.