Air Force family, strategic balance among top SecAF priorities

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
At the Air Force Sergeant's Association Professional Airmen's Conference here Aug. 18, the Air Force secretary emphasized his commitment to Airmen and their families, and a focus on strategic balance to best support current and future operations.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley addressed hundreds of Airmen, other service members, civilians and six former chief master sergeants of the Air Force to share his vision of building a greater sense of community related to service, Department of Defense and national priorities.

"Simply put, this is an expeditionary Air Force, and deployments are part of our culture," Secretary Donley said. "This year, you'll see a tremendous transition from operations in Iraq to surge operations in Afghanistan. We must continue to refine our efforts and recognize that an Airman's deployment is really a family's deployment."

Secretary Donley said the number of Airmen deployed to Iraq has dropped from about 9,800 to 7,300, with nearly 10,000 Airmen on the ground in Afghanistan, up from 7,600 since this time last year.

To assist Airmen returning from these deployments and others, the secretary said redeployers in certain career fields will see the reintegration process eased through a new deployment transition center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Though the Year of the Air Force Family ended in July 2010, Secretary Donley used the opportunity to highlight the significant and ongoing progress the service has made in enhancing support to families.

To gain a better understanding of where gaps in services might exist, about 250 helping professionals supported the 2009 and 2010 Caring for People forums, creating 62 base-level focus groups. Through these groups, Airmen voiced concerns about health and wellness, childcare, spouse education and employment, housing, dining facilities, and single Airmen issues.

"These forums helped us paint a valid picture of our needs and helped (guide) our next steps," Secretary Donley said. "Our truest core asset remains you, our Airmen; and now, more than ever, we need to keep our eyes on that target."

The secretary noted that military children and spouses face challenges that few civilian counterparts will ever know or experience, to include moves and deployments which can result in family separations and the inability to pursue careers.

In addition to a standardized key spouse program at each base, service initiatives include spouse educational and employment assistance, as well as transitional support for Air Force children.

The Air Force has also allotted about $2 million in the next fiscal year for programs such as marriage care retreats and enhanced social connections that provide balance and support for families, the secretary said.

An estimated $140 million will go to improved fitness centers with longer operating hours. Other initiatives include zero- or reduced-cost youth sports and childcare programs.

"We've already extended childcare through several programs, and we'll continue to reduce our childcare space deficit through new construction and additional personnel which will help us eliminate that deficit by the end of fiscal year 2012," Secretary Donley said.

For the 16,000 Airmen who comprise the exceptional family member program, Airmen and their families will receive timely and accurate information, streamlined assignment coordination, and adequate care through the newly established Air Force-wide standards, Secretary Donley said.

Noting a 40 percent population of single Airmen, the secretary added that "significant funding" has been allotted for the single Airman working group to help bridge gaps in communications and technology support, social and recreational opportunities, and single Airmen development.

Secretary Donley said Airmen have asked for, and will receive, better dining facilities and safe, contemporary and affordable housing.

"We have built or renovated 23,000 privatized homes by the end of this fiscal year," the secretary said. "There are many dorms worthy of updating, and we've programmed more than $250 million over the next two years toward improvements."

Secretary Donley lauded Airmen for their commitment to today's fight.

"Whether discussing air, space or cyber operations, our Airmen are engaged in today's conflicts," Secretary Donley said. "They're also engaged in shaping the perspectives of others and preventing conflicts through deterrence."

The secretary pledged to continue to prepare for tomorrow's fight across the full spectrum of conflict.

He related the criticality of organizing, training, equipping and posturing the Air Force, while enabling the capabilities on which the entire joint force depends.

In addition to mobility, air refueling, and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, Secretary Donley said counter-insurgency capabilities and the Joint Strike Fighter program were but one part of the service's strategic balance blueprint.

"While working on command and control for missile defense, we're pursuing light attack/armed reconnaissance light air support aircraft to more effectively train (up-and -coming) air forces who seek assistance from us," Secretary Donley said. "While planning for the recapitalization of the tanker fleet, we're strengthening space situational awareness and cyber defense."

The secretary added that while building the language and cultural competency program, the Air Force will continue to advance research on directed energy weapons and other future capabilities.

"This balanced approach provides a path for modernization in each of our Air Force core functions," Secretary Donley said. "It ensures the Air Force will have the capabilities we need to address potential threats across the spectrum of conflict and will enable joint and coalition forces to rapidly collect and move information at any time and place."

The secretary said Airmen perform to their highest potential if they are unencumbered by home-front or family issues, and highlighted the importance of base-level, grass-roots participation and feedback reflecting Airmen's needs.

"The Air Force has long been recognized as the service for its exceptional commitment to people and to families," Secretary Donley said. "Base-level leadership often has the best visibility into local needs and can most efficiently and effectively respond to and meet those needs."