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Past, present AF leaders gather at AFSA conference

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody speaks to the audience during the 2013 Air Force Sergeants Association Professional Airmen’s Conference and International Convention Aug. 28, 2013, at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, Texas. Cody spoke during the AFSA PACs senior leader perspective professional development forum. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman DeAndre Curtiss)

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody speaks to the audience during the 2013 Air Force Sergeants Association Professional Airmen’s Conference and International Convention Aug. 28, 2013, at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, Texas. Cody spoke during the AFSA PACs senior leader perspective professional development forum. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman DeAndre Curtiss)

Seven former chief master sergeants of the Air Force participate in a professional development forum Aug. 28, 2013, during the 2013 Air Force Sergeants Association Professional Airmen’s Conference and International Convention at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, Texas.  The former CMSAFs answered questions from the audience and provided opinions about current Air Force topics. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman DeAndre Curtiss)

Seven former chief master sergeants of the Air Force participate in a professional development forum Aug. 28, 2013, during the 2013 Air Force Sergeants Association Professional Airmen’s Conference and International Convention at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, Texas. The former CMSAFs answered questions from the audience and provided opinions about current Air Force topics. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman DeAndre Curtiss)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AFNS) --

Air Force senior leaders, past and present, gathered here Aug. 24-29 to speak at the 2013 Air Force Sergeants Association Professional Airman’s Conference and International Convention.

More than 150 active-duty service members, retirees and Defense Department civilians attended the conference that focused on enhancing the quality of life for current, former and future service members.

“I want you to know that our Air Force understands that our greatest asset is our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody.  “Our focus will remain on how we develop and take care of Airmen, so we maintain the capabilities for our nation and the Air Force.”

Cody provided the audience his perspective on the direction of the Air Force as the service navigates sequestration and other issues it’s likely to face today and in the future. In addition to the financial challenges facing the Air Force, he focused on suicide and domestic violence.

“There are consequences to the sacrifices we ask our Airmen and their families to make every day to help us win the fight, and there is only one way to get our arms around this,” Cody said. “The only way we can work through this as an Air Force family is to show how much we care for each other and to get personally involved in each other’s lives.”

While change may be a driving force, Cody wants Airmen to know that "this is family business" and he wants to assure all Airmen and their families that Air Force leaders are listening.

“We are going to be a smaller Air Force, and how we find balance for each and every one of you and your families is very important,” Cody said. “If we are going to sustain and maintain this high quality force that we have today, we’re going to have to provide an environment where you can have a life outside of just wearing the uniform.”

The AFSA Conference also featured seven of Cody’s predecessors during the annual Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force Forum. This year’s panel included retired Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, Sam Parish, James Binnicker, David Campanale, Eric Benken, Frederick Finch and Gerald Murray. The retired chiefs answered questions from the audience and provided their perspective on today’s Air Force.

“Leaders who hide behind the budget issue are not what the Chief of Staff wants,” Binnicker said. “We are bigger than sequestration, and we can do anything that the national command authority asks us to do.”

When asked about how to lead in this current environment, Parish provided his thoughts.

“You manage things, you lead people and leading doesn’t cost very much of anything,” Parish said. “If we keep taking care of people to the extent that we can and telling them why there are some things we can no longer do, then I think we will be OK.”

The conference closed with a banquet where Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning provided remarks. Fanning spoke about his experiences during his four months as the acting SecAF and where he thinks the service is going.

“We face many challenges in the years ahead and … I will tell you two things," he said. "There have been no decisions made yet, but almost certainly we will be a smaller Air Force. There are great uncertainties … but there is one thing I do not doubt and that’s the (Air Force’s) NCO corps.”

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