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CSAF Gen. David Goldfein talks to reporters at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, April 18, 2017. USAF photo by Wesley Farnsworth.

Two weeks after the Air Force announced a six-month hiatus in media engagements to allow time for airmen at all levels to undergo refresher training in how to talk to the press, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein explained it’s because operational security has “atrophied” in the post-Cold War era, and is necessary again now that the US is engaged in a “great power competition.”

Meeting with defense reporters in Washington Thursday, Goldfein said that as a junior officer during the 1980s, he had received extensive training in how not to discuss or allude to things that could be useful to America’s military adversaries.

“That was the world that we were in. There were things we talked about and things we didn’t talk about,” he said. 

Now, “We’re coming out of 17 years of conflict where we haven’t been in the great power competition game, so therefore we’ve been a little looser in the things we talk about,” he said.

Recently, there were “three or four incidents in a row” where press reports “skirted the edge” of giving away sensitive operational details, Goldfein claimed, and “the Secretary [Heather Wilson] and I were uncomfortable.” While the information was “not inappropriate for the world we were living in when violent extremism was the primary threat,” the stories were “inappropriate when we’re in a great power competition.” Adversaries pay close attention to “what we write, … say, … do.” 

Goldfein said the right amount to say is “always a balancing act. … We have an obligation to speak to the American people and tell them what’s going on, … and speak to you,” he said. “We take that obligation seriously.” Goldfein expressed his hope that “what you’ll report back to me is that there will be no difference.”

Major command chiefs and progressively lower-ranking officials have received “significant training” already, Goldfein said, saying the process is meant to give airmen “the tools they need.” He promised to convene reporters for a status check in two or three months on whether USAF is living up to its obligations to “tell … our stories.”