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AF senior leaders tour Dakota bases, meet personnel

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) --

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III arrived here today for a three-day trip through the Dakotas.

Welsh, his wife Betty, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody will visit the base and then move to Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., to meet with Airmen and their families.

Welsh will also meet with civic and congressional leaders at the bases.

"It's a great chance to meet Airmen," Welsh said aboard his plane en route here. "I love seeing how they are doing. It's important for us to see how we're doing on the communications side of the house -- that we're reaching them and connecting with them."

The Air Force chief of staff is prepared to discuss all aspects of the service, but expects questions about the future of the service, budget constraints and how Airmen will be doing their jobs in five to 10 years.

"Airmen are fairly predictable," Welsh said. "They want to be the best in the world at what they do and they work hard at it."

Welsh said he also expects service members to ask questions about education, training, operations and exercises.

"They don't want to be sitting around doing nothing and wishing they could be doing something to make it better," the general said.

Airmen are concerned about their ability to keep flying, he said. They also are worried about the future for their career fields.

"They are wondering if we are going to be cutting a lot of people," Welsh said. "And how that will affect their families."

Some young Airmen are concerned about retirement benefits.

"That's new to me," the general said. "That is not something I would have worried about as a young lieutenant in the Air Force. But they do, because they are thinking long range."

Welsh said the Air Force owes its young men and women answers.

"We'll get questions from two-stripers that I wouldn't have thought of until I was a colonel," he said.

"I love Airmen," he added. "This will be fun."

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