Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley delivered remarks during the 34th Annual Salute to the Military at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Miss., Oct. 23, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kemberly Groue)
Rep. Steven Palazzo, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Sen. Roger Wicker applaud Master Sgt. Nicole Dismute, of Mathies NCO Academy at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., in Biloxi, Miss., Oct. 23, 2012. Dismute was announced as the winner of the Thomas V. Fredian Community Leadership Award during the 34th Annual Salute to the Military at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kemberly Groue)
11/1/2012 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley praised the robust partnership of the Air Force and its sister services at the Salute to the Military in Biloxi, Miss., Oct. 23.
Donley addressed nearly 1,000 military members and community representatives at the 34th annual event sponsored by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce.
"It's wonderful to see the strong bond of camaraderie that helps make the partnership here between the people of Mississippi and men and women who serve in our armed forces such a tremendous asset to our national security," Donley said. "This community enjoys a long tradition of supporting our service members, joining generation after generation of Americans who laid the foundation for a strong national defense."
Donley pointed out that outstanding community support for all Department of Defense missions and military members across the state "is just one of the characteristics of Mississippi neighborliness and patriotism that make the Gulf Coast such a great place to serve our country and to live, which is evidenced by the thousands of military retirees who choose to plant roots here.
"America's Airmen are in the fight," the secretary emphasized as he highlighted the contributions of the Air Force and other military branches in combat, humanitarian and stability operations around the world.
Donley noted that while the Air Force has embraced technology that continues to revolutionize its capabilities in air, space and cyberspace, "it's simply a fact that everything we do depends on our people, the living engine of our Air Force."
The secretary recognized the importance of Keesler AFB's training mission, noting that "thousands of Airmen trace their professional careers back to this location." He also mentioned the critical mission of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's Hurricane Hunters in tracking dangerous storms.
Donley also addressed the challenges facing the military services from both the international strategic environment and domestic budget constraints. He referred to the hard choices the Air Force was forced to make to align its fiscal 2013 budget proposal with the new defense strategic guidance and to comply with the requirements of the Budget Control Act, which calls for a defense budget reduction of $487 billion in the coming decade.
"In the Air Force budget, we made a conscious choice to protect readiness by trading size for quality, resulting in some force structure reductions that would divest 286 aircraft and reduce personnel in the active Guard and Reserve by approximately 9,900 over the next five years," Donley explained. "Reductions to force structure and manpower are necessary to ensure we have the resources to support a ready force today and a modern force capable of meeting tomorrow's challenges. ... To achieve these reductions, it is impossible to avoid impacts to Airmen, various civilian and contractor workforces, and the communities they live in."
The threat of budget sequestration overshadows all budget decisions across the federal government, according to Donley.
"We have little more than two months before sequester goes into effect, a meat ax-like approach which would drive additional reductions of approximately $55 billion to (fiscal 2013) defense accounts," the secretary said.
"This is not a responsible way to achieve deficit reduction," he continued. "These additional and arbitrarily applied across-the-board cuts would leave the military without a workable strategy to counter global threats."
For the Air Force, sequestration would lead to reduction in flying hours, procurement, weapon sustainment and training, as well as civilian workforce reductions, Donley said.
In closing, the secretary thanked military members and the surrounding communities "for building and sustaining a partnership that continues to benefit the Air Force, the state of Mississippi and our nation. What a great track record, what a great legacy."