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Welsh, Cody wrap-up trip to the Dakotas

Staff Sgt. Amanda Davidson briefs Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, Nov. 26, 2013, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Davidson is a  319th Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Xavier Navarro)

Staff Sgt. Amanda Davidson briefs Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, Nov. 26, 2013, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Davidson is a 319th Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Xavier Navarro)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Air Force’s top commissioned and noncommissioned military leaders met thousands of Airmen in the Dakotas this week, learning about their missions and lives and answering their questions.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody visited Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., and Ellsworth AFB, S.D. during a three-day trip.

Welsh and Cody addressed Airmen during “All Calls” and met with civic and state leaders as well as command groups.

At Grand Forks AFB the 319th Air Base Wing hosted the visiting leaders, who toured the 69th Reconnaissance Group’s operations center. The group flies remotely piloted Global Hawk aircraft in support of operations worldwide. The average age of the Airmen assigned to this critical task is 24.

An airman first class, a senior airman and a second lieutenant were among those who briefed Welsh and Cody at Grand Forks. They discussed their missions with the chief and chief master sergeant and made suggestions on how they could perform their missions better.

Welsh told the Airmen they “are in the Wright Flyer” era of remotely piloted aircraft. He praised them for developing the capability even as they are flying combat missions in support of those in harm’s way.

“When these Airmen become master sergeants, senior master sergeants and chiefs, and the officers become colonels and generals, they are going to change the Air Force,” Welsh said following the tour.

Welsh was intrigued by the cooperation between the local universities, local businesses, the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the active duty and Air National Guard units at Grand Forks to turn the area into a center of research for remotely piloted aircraft.

“This has the possibility to help not only the Air Force, but the military community, (the Department of) Homeland Security and all kinds of things,” Welsh said in an interview on his return to Washington.

“I didn’t realize how quickly that was coming together,” the general added.

The 28th Bomb Wing hosted Welsh and Cody during their tour on Ellsworth AFB. The Airmen at the base are among the 220,000 Airmen around the world supporting combatant commanders. The B-1 Lancer bomber is the mainstay of Ellsworth AFB’s punch. The aircraft has been remarkably flexible in its 30-year career with the service. Originally, the B-1 was a low-altitude penetrating bomber designed to attack the Soviet Union. It now regularly provides close-air support to troops in Afghanistan.

At both bases, Welsh and Cody answered questions from Airmen worried about the budget and what sequestration means to the service, and their concerns about lack of funds for training, maintenance and logistics. They’re also concerned about the possible closing of commissaries and how potential budget cuts could affect military family programs.

During the All Call at Ellsworth AFB, both Cody emphasized that Airmen at the base need to concentrate on doing their jobs.

“The nation needs you to be ready,” Cody said. “You let us fight for you in Washington.”

The Air Force’s mission is to fight and win America’s wars, Cody said. That is a full-time job.

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