Air Force leaders welcome attendees to annual conference Published Sept. 17, 2012 By Tech. Sgt. Julie Weckerlein Air Force Public Affairs Agency WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In a ceremony steeped in military tradition, Air Force senior leaders welcomed thousands to the 2012 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here Sept. 17, a day before the service's 65th birthday. "Being here gives us a chance to step away from the daily thrash and celebrate 65 years of being a success story while honoring our Airmen," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "This year's theme of 'Airmen, Airpower, America's Air Force' captures it well." The three-day conference is an annual event in which total force Airmen meet with defense leaders, joint teammates, industry representatives and others to discuss service-related topics. This year's event kicked off with an opening ceremony as well as an awards presentation recognizing Airmen, civilians and family members for their accomplishments over the past year. A ribbon-cutting ceremony followed, officially opening the technology exposition. Attendees also held a moment of silence to honor Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, and former Air Force officer Sean Smith, all of who were recently killed in Benghazi, Libya. During his keynote address, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley honored those who have worked so hard to bring the promise of airpower to fruition. "We owe an enormous debt to the ground-breaking visionaries and engineering pioneers who brought to life the technology of flight, and to the professional strategists and tacticians who imagined the military possibilities of these new technologies and propelled the science, theory and application of airpower," Donley said. He detailed various accomplishments of Airmen over the past year, to include the transfer of all airspace control to the government of Iraq in December 2011. Airmen redeployed combat forces from 46 bases in Iraq, including more than 86,000 coalition personnel and more than 87,000 vehicles. "And just as in the first months of that long campaign, as the last vehicles crossed the border into Kuwait, Airmen were overhead to ensure their security and mission success," Donley said. Airmen have also flown more than 162,000 sorties in Afghanistan, ranging from combat to close air support and aerial refueling flights. The theme running throughout these accomplishments, he said, was the commitment of Airmen to the mission. "America enjoys many advantages, to include generation after generation of men and women who willingly have volunteered to serve our country by wearing the nation's cloth," Donley said. "This priceless advantage allows us to remain confident that our innovative, dedicated and professional Airmen will carry on the traditions and uphold the standards of our proud Air Force heritage."