MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) --
Airmen from the 35th Fighter Wing here welcomed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III to the base Aug. 28.
In his first official visit as chief of staff, Welsh was candid and amicable while speaking with hundreds of Airmen during an Airman's call where he touched on key issues regarding the current state of the Air Force and the role of Misawa Air Base.
In particular, he highlighted the 35th Fighter Wing Wild Weasels F-16 Fighting Falcons who perform the suppression of enemy air defenses mission as "operationally outstanding."
"Everything I have seen here at Misawa has been fantastic," Welsh said. "The mission you do here is very important; it's the only unit in this theater that does this full time and the people here are really good at their job. The Air Force is about being a great team, and Misawa is a great microcosm of that."
As part of his two-week tour in the Pacific, Welsh has met with Airmen and families to discuss opportunities and challenges in the region, while also taking time to discuss issues with partner Airmen in Korea and Japan.
"The partnership with Japan and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force is very important to regional security," Welsh continued. "There are all kinds of people who trust each other, and that's what partnerships are all about. You live that every day, so thank you for that."
With a year under his belt as chief of staff, Welsh shared what he considers vital focus areas to ensure Air Force success moving forward -- common sense, communication and caring.
"Common sense has to be the first standard we apply every time," Welsh
said. "If you find a standard that doesn't agree with common sense, it's wrong."
Earlier this year, the Air Force launched a campaign called "Every Dollar Counts" where Airmen and civilians were encouraged to submit money-saving ideas to a website over a 30-day period. At the end of the month, more than 11,000 ideas were submitted. The feedback was overwhelming and there were many great ideas, but one looming question left Welsh a bit rattled: Why do 11,000 Airmen feel like they have to go to a website to bring up a good idea?
"They don't feel like someone is going to listen and no one wants to rock the boat," he said. "Those are horrible reasons and we have to change them. We have to listen to our Airmen."
Welsh said one change he would like to see in the Air Force is the way we care for people. He said 22 years of consistent deployments has been taxing on Airmen, and more importantly, it has also worn out their families. With all the questions about funding and the future of the service, Welsh said it's a priority of his to put a focus on the people.
"The better we take care of them, the prouder they are to be in this business and wear this uniform," he said. "The more challenge they feel, the more likely they are to stay in. I don't want to lose Airmen, they're fantastic."
Welsh talked about how he would also like to see improvements made to enhance the effectiveness of communication, using the recent challenges with tuition assistance as an example.
Last year alone, around 104,000 Airmen were paid TA that totaled approximately $200 million. When TA was cut earlier in the year, thousands of service members were quick to express their displeasure, causing legislative action for the Air Force to transfer funds to reinstate the program. Welsh said what many people didn't understand was where this money was forced to come from. The Air Force was left with no option but to cease operations for two flying squadrons critical to air superiority for the remainder of the year.
"Our job is to fight and win the country's wars. There's only one option there, and that is to win," Welsh said. "If we lose the next war, nobody will care how well we treat our people. This information was out there, but we need to do a better job of communicating it to everyone."
But he foot stomped that communication also includes just listening to them.
"Every Airman has a story and each one is unique. But if you don't know the story, you can't lead the Airmen," Welsh said.
He also hit on the status of sequestration and civilian furloughs, apologizing and defining the unfortunate developments as a breach of faith.
"Our civilians are critical to every mission area we have," he said. "We're doing everything we can to make sure this doesn't happen again next year."
Airmen were provided the opportunity to ask the chief of staff questions in an open-floor format. Recurring questions were rightly centered on budget constraints and impacts of sequestration.
Welsh said both civilians and uniformed service members have felt the effects of budget cuts, and thanked everyone for their patience as Congress works through these big-picture issues.
"This is an unusual time; everyone is going to be affected financially, and we have to understand that," Welsh said. "We are going to get smaller as an Air Force. We have to focus on our core missions; they haven't changed since 1947 and that's who we are. Anything around the perimeter of that is going to go away."
Welsh finished by saying the air staff is working tirelessly to review and implement long-term programs across the board to provide stability to all those serving, and he expects to tangibly see the effects of many of these efforts in the coming months.