Just in time for the Christmas holiday, the U.S. Air Force has effectively given the hook to its morale-boosting song-and-dance troupe because of budget concerns and an acute lack of interest. On Monday, the service announced it would cancel its Tops in Blue entertainment program for 2016 “to reassess its mission, venue, themes and cost.”
The band is made up of around 30 active service members who leave their assigned jobs for one year to sing, play instruments and dance for air personnel and their families around the globe. The Air Force budgeted roughly $1.3 million for the program in 2015, a 13 percent boost from 2014, including more than $1 million in so-called “morale, welfare and recreation” funds.
Budget documents show the Defense Department is slated to spend around $1.5 billion on such efforts across the military branches. Despite the glitz and glamour, Tops in Blue has its fair share of critics. They point out that the band’s price tag is actually much larger because its budget doesn’t include the salaries of the participating musicians, which can quickly run over $1 million. Detractors also argue that at a time of fiscal austerity, the money for Tops in Blue could be better spent elsewhere.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said the topic came up repeatedly during all-hands base calls. But putting the show on hiatus wasn’t purely a budget decision. The Air Force also sent out a first-of-its-kind survey to more than 4,700 air force personnel and civilian employees to gauge their interest in the group that originally formed in 1953.
The results were dismaying, to say the least.
“While there is widespread awareness among the force, only about 25 percent of all Airmen have seen a performance within the past five years,” the Air Force said. Air personnel between the ages of 25 and 34, who make up about one-third of the active-duty Air Force were “the least likely to have a positive opinion of Tops in Blue,” according to the service.
“The feedback indicated this was not a cut-and-dry decision,” said Brig. Gen. Lenny Richoux, the head of Air Force Services. Considering “changing demand for entertainment combined with constrained resources, it is important that we take a look at alternatives and ask for a broad base of inputs and opinions,” he added.
Tops in Blue was slated to have 60 shows between last June and January 15, 2016 and that date will be when the band will take its final bow at Scott Air Base in Illinois.