Airmen at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., gather to listen to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley Nov. 18, 2009, as he talks about the Air Force's top priorities. Topics discussed included retirement of legacy fighters like the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and Luke's modern day heroes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Gary Mathieson)
Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley addresses Airmen at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Nov. 18, 2009, during a visit to the base. The audience listens intently as he discusses plans on modernizing fighter aircraft and the impact that will have Air Force-wide. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Gary Mathieson)
11/19/2009 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) -- The secretary of the Air Force visited Luke Air Force Base for the first time Nov. 18 and spoke to base members about the latest Air Force issues.
"I've been looking forward to visiting Luke for months," said Secretary Michael B. Donley said. "I wanted to personally meet the people that continue to make lasting contributions to our Air Force."
The secretary congratulated the Airmen on their many accomplishments, including the Air Force Outstanding Security Forces Award, energy conservation efforts and the base tire shop benchmarking of Air Force Smart Operatins for the 21st century initiatives.
The secretary also made mention that Luke is home to heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. Maj. Troy Gilbert, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot who was killed in Iraq, and Master Sgt. Randy Gillespie, the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels NCO in charge who died in Afghanistan during a small arms battle, were both honored.
The acceleration of retiring legacy fighters and introduction of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter was another topic of conversation. The secretary acknowledged that Luke AFB is a candidate on the short list for the F-35, and noted that while it will be years before the F-35 is fully delivered, it is the aircraft of the future.
"We know that the F-35 is the future workhorse for fighter aircraft. The plan is to convert legacy fighters into a smaller and more flexible fleet."
By the end of next year, Air Force officials plan on retiring between 240 and 250 aircraft; 134 of which are F-16s and of that, 28 aircraft specifically from Luke AFB.
In regardsto supporting overseas activities, the secretary confirmed the Air Force's priorities.
"All of our efforts are focused on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," Secretary Donley said. "We are closely partnered with the Army as we draw down our forces in Iraq, and diligently continue to enhance relationships with leaders in Afghanistan. It's critical to the success of local security to train-up the Afghanistan air force and security forces."
Currently, Luke AFB has approximately 400 Airmen deployed across the globe supporting the mission.
Secretary Donley concluded his visit by saying, "it's an exciting time to be in the Air Force, and these challenges bring new opportunities. It's an honor for me to serve with you in the world's best Air Force."