SECAF outlines future, thanks Airmen during Kadena visit

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kenya Shiloh
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Outlining the Air Force's future was the focus of Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley's Airmen's Call during his visit here Dec. 22, part of a six-base Pacific tour in which the secretary is reconnecting with the region and thanking Airmen serving overseas during this holiday season.

The secretary touched on the many challenges the Air Force faces now and will face in the future, to include supporting the joint fight, bolstering the service's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets and capabilities, and balancing the force.

"Chief [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz] and I have been moving past some of the problems we confronted about 18 months ago," Secretary Donley said. "Now we can spend a little more time working on not just today's problems but looking ahead, plotting a strategic vision for the Air Force."

According to the secretary, the development of such a vision involves balancing how to best support the U.S. Military's objectives in Afghanistan and the directive to increase the flow of forces there, while maintaining readiness for other contingencies.

"We're balancing our force to succeed in different types of warfare across the conflict spectrum," he said. "We can and must win the fights in front of us today and we're doing what it takes to be successful in Afghanistan. The inherent speed and range of airpower will help enable this."

Secretary Donley noted that while mobility forces don't count toward the number of Airmen on the ground in Afghanistan, nearly all incoming forces rely on airlift capabilities to flow into the country, making that and other capabilities, such as medical and casualty evacuation resources, vital to combat operations in-theater.

The secretary added that remotely-piloted vehicles, along with the Air Force's role in space and cyberspace, have been and will continue to be essential to the fight.

"We've been focused on building up the ISR capabilities, building more Predators, Reapers, MC-12 and Global Hawks to support the joint warfighter," he said. "Many changes to the Air Force are driven by global strategic changes and we're trying to meet that new capability out as fast as we possibly can."

To do so, the Air Force plans to update the RC-135 Rivet Joint and add intelligence collection and reconnaissance capabilities to several other airframes.

The secretary said the main challenge the Air Force faces is prioritizing the allocation of strained resources to achieve maximum effect.

"When we build up one capability, it comes at the expense of some other part of our Air Force and we have to make tradeoffs," he said. "We're looking at finding a better way to balance our total personnel assets by partnering with the Guard and Reserve forces. These are the kind of things we need to explore deeply and efficiently."

Another way to meet that goal is partnering with sister services and coalition forces -- a strategy that has been working overseas for many years.

"Everywhere we go outside the United States is joint," Secretary Donley said. "Even in the AOR, you go to Iraq and it's no longer Balad Air Base it's Joint Base Balad. We've even stopped production of the F-22 Raptor to focus on a joint-fighter attack force structure, and the F-35 is the way to go. It's not just for the Air Force, it's for the Navy and Marine Corps and nine other coalition air forces."

Kadena is no stranger to partnering with the Navy, Marine Corps and Japan Air Self Defense Forces, and Secretary Donley made it a point to emphasize the important role Kadena Airmen play on a daily basis.

"You have an impact on the balance of power and stability in the Pacific region," the secretary said. "Our forward presence in locations like this allows us to provide that stability and work with allies and partners to help build their capacity and assist in humanitarian relief operations when necessary."

He commended Kadena Airmen and their families for the sacrifices they've made and gave special recognition to one Airman, Tech. Sgt. Stephen McGrath from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, by personally presenting the sergeant with the Air Force Combat Action Medal, awarded for his efforts in Iraq. Sergeant McGrath was previously awarded two Bronze Stars.

"This has been a real privilege for me," Secretary Donley said. "People ask what the best part about being the secretary of the Air Force is and it's getting out and meeting Airmen like you that are doing the work of the Air Force 24/7. It's really a gift to the nation that you chose the Air Force. Back in Washington we're 100 percent behind you and very appreciative of what you're committed to and how hard you work. It's a real honor for me to serve with you."