Air Force secretary visits Lackland, addresses priorities

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ben Gonzales
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
The secretary of the Air Force toured Lackland Air Force Base and presided over the latest Basic Military Training graduation here Jan. 8.

Secretary Michael Donley toured the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills and Training complex, talked to base Airmen and discussed some of his top priorities for 2010.

"This is the first-year anniversary of the extension of BMT from 6.5 to 8.5 weeks, and part of that extension was focused on adding Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills and Training to the curriculum," the secretary said. "All of that is a product of a couple of years of development to make our warrior Airmen better prepared for the current fights in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think it has succeeded in that effort, and we need to continue this kind of emphasis going forward."

The Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills and Training, or BEAST, is the centerpiece of the two-week expansion that gives Air Force trainees a more realistic forward-operating base environment to practice wartime skills. Part of the BEAST focuses on improvised explosive device training.

"Our Airmen are being deployed into the theater of operations in a dynamic security environment and we need our basic training program to stay informed of current threats," Secretary Donley said. "The IED training has special relevance to the current war. This is exactly the type of training we need to give our Airmen from the very beginning."

With today's Airmen graduating from BMT and moving on to technical school, many of the young men and women will go on to work on aircraft that are older than they are. Knowing this, the 22nd Air Force secretary is committed to modernizing the service's fleet.

"We are focused on recapitalizing the tanker fleet and we are very close to completing the request for proposal that will go to contractors," he said. "We've had a draft out for several months and we are about to finalize that and we hope to get a tanker competition and make a selection in 2010. The F-35 (Lightning II joint strike fighter) remains a priority, and is the largest investment program in the Air Force. We have several space programs that we're continuing with."

Another priority for the Air Force is supporting combatant commanders with the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs demanded for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Airmen provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels through the use of unmanned aircraft systems and reconnaissance aircraft.

"The (U.S. Central Command) commander has requested more (ISR) capabilities, especially in Afghanistan, and we stepped up to do those," Secretary Donley said. "As the Air Force has met the accelerated timelines for delivery of new airframes - like (MQ-9) Reapers and MC-12s, which have recently started operations in Afghanistan - Defense Department officials have set new goals for us. We will be challenged to meet these new goals over the next couple of years. That is a major priority for us, to continue producing the ISR platforms that will bring additional capability into the CENTCOM (area of responsibility) as soon as possible."

But having the best equipment is meaningless without supporting the men and women who serve in the Air Force, the secretary said. And Air Force officials have designated July 2009 through July 2010 as the Year of the Air Force Family to highlight the programs in place as well as identify areas to improve support to Airmen and their families.

"Supporting Airmen and their families is not just the right thing to do for Airmen, it is the smart thing to do for our Air Force," Secretary Donley said. "Family support is so essential to the success of an Airman's career and his or her propensity to re-enlist. We are an Air Force that emphasizes the experienced force, so we need to retain those Airmen we develop and train to become senior NCOs and field grade and higher officers. We have a very high degree of satisfaction as we talk to our Airmen and we poll across the Air Force about the quality of our family support activities, but there are a few places where we can do better. We are looking for those opportunities in the Year of the Air Force Family.

"Our overarching objective is to find ways to improve the community life of the Air Force," said the secretary who is in charge of the welfare of more than 334,000 Airmen on active duty, as well as 176,000 Reserve and Air National Guard members, 170,000 civilians, and their families. "We need to recognize the many different dimensions that play on growing strong Air Force communities and the interaction of child care, access to health care programs, access to education and career development programs, and family support activities related to supporting the deployed Airmen and their families. Those are the things we'd like to look at closer and holistically to figure out how we can build stronger Air Force communities."

Building stronger Air Force communities starts at the very beginning for Airmen: Air Education and Training Command.

"This trip to AETC and BMT has been an opportunity to get more closely acquainted with that part of the Air Force that is bringing in and recruiting and developing our Airmen," Secretary Donley said. "I appreciate the transformation that takes place when Airmen come into the Air Force from all corners of our country and from all walks of life and get transformed in BMT and in their technical training into Airmen who are doing the nation's business, providing national security for our country. So this is an impressive process that is a deep institutional competence that is vitally important to our Air Force, not just for today but into the future.

"Seeing Airmen all over the world, I'm continually impressed not only by the esprit and morale, but also the capabilities and skills being brought by our Airmen in support of the joint fight," Secretary Donley said. "Our Air Force is more capable than it has ever been. We provide important capabilities, in many different dimensions that in many respects are the glue of the joint warfighting effort (including) mobility, air refueling, ISR, aeromedical evacuation, and space-based capabilities."

In regard to the priorities of the Air Force, the secretary said the Air Force will continue to support the joint commander, fight the war on terrorism, and improve the service's nuclear enterprise.

"We created Air Force Global Strike Command last year and in that process transferred the (intercontinental ballistic missile) force from Air Force Space Command to AFGSC in December," he said. "In the next month or so we will transfer the bomber components from Air Combat Command into AFGSC. We still have work to do in the nuclear enterprise that will take months and years to implement.

"We are a service that was born out of new technology and emphasizes innovation in many different dimensions, but what makes our Air Force what it is are the Airmen who get the work done. They are the ones who make the equipment operate, who build concepts of operations that link capabilities across our warfighting domains: air, space and cyberspace. It is our Airmen who make all that work together, and we need well trained, experienced, motivated and dedicated Airmen to do that. Additionally, as Air Force leaders it is our top priority and responsibility to ensure our Airmen and their families get the support they need, to enable our Airmen to get the work of the Air Force done."