The Yokota Air Base, in the Kanto region of Japan, houses 14,000 US personnel, almost all of whom are members of the 374th Airlift Wing. The Wing has seen three suicides since April. The Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) have assembled a team to investigate the causes behind these suicides and assist airmen who may be at risk. The Air Force’s other two major Japanese bases, Kadena and Misawa, will also be studied.
Colonel Kenneth Moss, who has been Wing Commander of the 374th since June, called for a town-hall meeting to shed light on the increased suicide rate. Several airmen had reported that the main source of stress was overwork. The Heritage Foundation reports that the US Air Force has less personnel today than at any time since World War II, and Fox News reports that the Air Force is short 4,000 airmen to maintain its fleet globally. At some bases, planes meant to be maintained by six-man crews have only three airmen assigned. Working long hours, thousands of miles from home, has made the already-demanding tasks far more difficult, according to reports.
In 2013, the US federal budget underwent a mandatory reduction in federal spending totaling over 85 billion dollars. Over half of that cut came from the US defense budget, with further cuts intended for each successive year. Even before the budget sequestration, however, the US Air Force was aging and shrinking. Some planes, such as the famous U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the B-52 strategic bomber, have been in continuous service since the 1950’s.
President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to reverse the 2013 sequestration and increase defense spending once he takes office in January 2017. General James Mattis, Trump’s appointment for Secretary of Defense, has been an outspoken critic of the defense budget cuts.