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SecAF Wilson returns to RAF Mildenhall, discusses innovation, strategy

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Patrick Leach, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels system journeyman and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson discuss the confined space trainer, a new innovation developed by the squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 12, 2018. Secretary Wilson visited RAF Mildenhall to engage with Airmen from the 100th ARW and discuss innovations and strategy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Lee)

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks with Airmen from the 100th Maintenance Squadron about the new innovation used for maintaining the KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to RAF Mildenhall, England, July 12, 2018. Wilson visited RAF Mildenhall to engage with Airmen from the 100th Air Refueling Wing and discuss innovation and strategy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Lee)

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks with Airmen from the 100th Maintenance Squadron about the new innovation used for maintaining the KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to RAF Mildenhall, England, July 12, 2018. Secretary Wilson visited RAF Mildenhall to engage with Airmen from the 100th ARW and discuss innovations and strategy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Lee)

Senior Airman Patrick Leach, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels system journeyman and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson discuss the confined space trainer, a new innovation developed by the squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 12, 2018. Wilson visited RAF Mildenhall to engage with Airmen from the 100th Air Refueling Wing and discuss innovation and strategy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Lee)

RAF MILDENHALL, England (AFNS) -- When then 2nd Lt. Heather Wilson joined the Air Force in 1985, her very first assignment was to the 3rd Air Force at RAF Mildenhall.

Now, Secretary of the Air Force Wilson returned to RAF Mildenhall July 12, to learn about the new innovations the Airmen have since created, and to speak about the National Defense Strategy.

“It’s been 30 years since I’ve been at RAF Mildenhall, and seeing how much it has changed, I can see that driving innovation is still one our top priorities,” Wilson said.

RAF Mildenhall won the fourth annual “Innovation Madness” competition hosted across U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa in 2018. Wilson had the opportunity to see how innovation is part of the base’s culture.

“The most important organization in the Air Force is the squadron. It’s not the wing or the chief of staff,” Wilson said. “If you have a great first sergeant and a great squadron commander, it will create a great culture in the Air Force and encourage innovation. It will drive and push Airmen to be better. During my tour, I could tell this is the environment that Team Mildenhall has produced.”

Wilson also talked about the important role RAF Mildenhall Airmen occupy in the defensive structure within Europe.

“This wing here is our overseas base power projection platform for Europe and Africa, as well as the Middle East,” Wilson said. “It is strategically important and we don’t get anywhere without tankers. Where we’re really short in many of our operations is tankers, so this is a strategic asset that enables America to project power.”

Wilson went on to discuss how maintaining relationships with allies like the United Kingdom is an important part of the National Defense Strategy.

“Strengthening our alliances is a key goal,” Wilson said. “This is the first time that I remember our National Defense Strategy specifically saying one of our key elements is to strengthen our alliances with our partners. It is a strategic advantage of the U.S.”

The reason, Wilson explained, is that we’re stronger together.

“Our adversaries intimidate their neighbors,” she said. “They don’t have countries that inspire the kind of freedom that America represents and that takes strength. We are stronger together. Joining with our allies creates more dilemmas for the adversary than if we try to operate alone.”

Looking back on her past as an Air Force officer and speaking to the future of RAF Mildenhall’ s Airmen, Wilson recalled a story when she was asked by an Airman, “Secretary Wilson, what do you expect from us?”

“I expect our Airmen to live in accordance with the core values and to lead in accordance with our core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Now, excellence doesn’t mean perfection, and integrity first doesn’t mean sainthood, but those values are the foundation of who we are as Airmen. If we are mission focused, value-driven and people-oriented, we will continue to be the most formidable fighting force on the planet.”

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