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Decentralization and the Establishment of the Air Force’s Personnel Center

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --

As a historian, I’m often struck by seemingly innocuous junctures in history that lead to remarkable outcomes. In the middle of the Cold War, the Pentagon’s need to recoup physical space helped spur the decentralization of some Air Force functions, which led to the creation of the Air Force’s Personnel Center nearly six decades ago on April 1, 1963.

On January 27, 1959, General Curtis LeMay, then Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, wrote a memo that argued the sprawling Air Staff bureaucracy hindered its ability “to effectively meet new situations within the resources available to the Air Staff.”

LeMay believed that a smaller headquarters staff, unencumbered by operational matters, would allow his staff to focus on higher-level strategy. “Routine operating functions, as opposed to the hardcore function of planning, formulating policy, programming and budgeting, must be decentralized from the Washington area wherever possible,” LeMay declared.

This memo helped instigate a series of feasibility studies, discussions, and planning sessions on decentralization, which led to the establishment of the Air Force Military Personnel Center on April 1, 1963.

While the separation of operations from policy engendered reform, mundane considerations over real estate also played a role. In fact, the Department of Defense’s quest for more room at the Pentagon impelled the case for decentralization of some of the Air Force’s functions. Personnel, rooms for physical records, and large, clunky data processing systems all took up large amounts of space. One study found they could free up over 85,000 square feet of office space by moving the personnel functions out of the Pentagon.

In 1956, the Director of Military Personnel (DMP) used then state-of-the-art IBM 705 machines to automate some officer assignment records. The following year the DMP launched Project Auto-Mate, a large-scale integration of computer technology to develop a modern personnel system. While this gained Air Force leaders’ interest, the Pentagon’s voracious appetite for space won the day.

Once Air Force leaders decided to disentangle personnel operations from the Pentagon, they had to determine where to relocate the mission. Although Randolph Air Force Base, Texas was not among the initial bases in consideration, it quickly became a favorite for many reasons: available office space, affordability, abundance of talented civilian personnel in the area, its accessibility by air, and strategic geographic location amid the Cold War. Additionally, Randolph AFB served as the Air Training Command’s (ATC) headquarters, which handled one third of all military personnel assignments at the time. While there were talks about subsuming the burgeoning personnel center into ATC, they never bore fruit.

Between March 1963 and October 1964, the Personnel Center Project Office planned and oversaw the move of personnel and resources to Randolph AFB. On April 1, 1963, the Air Force activated the 1105th Support Group (USAF Military Personnel Center) as a “field extension of the DCS/Personnel” at Randolph AFB under the Director of Military Personnel. Since then, AFPC professionals, in one form or another, have executed programs and policies on behalf of the Department of the Air Force. The women and men currently serving at AFPC are part of a long tradition of military and civilian professionals who operate behind the scenes, charged with the enormous responsibility of taking care of Airmen, Guardians, and their families while enabling the warfighter of the 21st Century.

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