Welsh thanks Eglin AFB Airmen, families

  • Published
  • By Sara Vidoni
  • 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III visited Team Eglin Jan. 26-28 to thank Airmen and their families here for their service and sacrifice, and to discuss current challenges and opportunities facing the service.

Though the general's second visit to the base as chief of staff included his birthday celebration, the focus was truly on the Airmen.

"On behalf of the (secretary of the Air Force) and on behalf of myself, I want to say thank you for what you've been doing not just for the last year, but for your entire careers," Welsh said. "I want you to remember how critically important you are to what we do."

Welsh’s wife, Betty, Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, the Air Force Materiel Command commander, and her husband retired Col. Craig Wolfenbarger accompanied the CSAF for a portion of the two-day visit. The generals and their spouses visited with Airmen and families from across Eglin AFB, the Armament Directorate, 53rd Wing and 96th Test Wing, . 

Welsh held an all call for all three Team Eglin wings and tenant units. 

Hundreds of Airmen from across Eglin AFB packed into a hangar for a chance to listen to Welsh's remarks on the current and future state of the Air Force. 

Throughout the course of the call, Welsh emphasized the importance of looking forward to becoming a stronger, prouder Air Force. He explained the need to focus on the Air Force's core missions as we move into more challenging years ahead. 

"Where we are going is where we have been, but how we do business is going to change, and that's what we have to be thinking about for the future," Welsh said. "We know what the budget is going to look like in 2023. It will not support the same size Air Force we have today. The Air Force has to be more capable, credible and viable. We have to invest now in order to have that force in 2023." 

Going forward, Welsh described three keys to success that will be vital to keeping the Air Force resilient in the years to come: common sense, communication and caring more.

"We have to get into a mindset of questioning the way we do things all the time," Welsh said. "If your people are doing something that doesn't make common sense, if it doesn't make the mission better ... then quit doing it."

He urged the Airmen in the room to communicate more efficiently up and down the chain of command and across all levels. 

Welsh also emphasized the need for all Airmen to know each other better and care more.

"I know you care about each other, you care about your people, you care about the job, but if our job is to fight and win the nation's wars, we will never be good enough at caring," Welsh said. 

Welsh closed his remarks by reminding the Airmen in the hangar, "that every Airman has a story. If you don't know the story, you can't lead the Airman. Know the story."

During the question-and-answer session, Welsh talked candidly about critical Air Force topics including force shaping, retirement benefits, the Thunderbirds, fleet divestiture, promotions, tuition assistance and the F-35 Lightning II program.

Although a winter storm loomed over his departure Jan. 28, Welsh was able to meet with F-35 pilots and maintainers from the 33rd Fighter Wing.

Instead of a standard briefing and tour, Welsh sat down with the Airmen for an open discussion on the Air Force's newest weapons system. He told them he wanted first-hand feedback from users of the joint strike fighter. Topics included the Autonomic Logistics Information System, aircraft generation, helmet and weapon issues, initial operational capability, command relationships and leadership, among others.

He assured the Airmen he was fully behind their efforts and in support of the F-35 and its future.

"We don't plan to slow the F-35 program down,” he said. “This is the right thing for the DOD. This is the right plane."

During her time with the Airmen, Betty Welsh visited with base leaders and family members to discuss Airmen and family care programs, participate in a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office/Victim Advocate Forum and tour the hospital to talk to Airmen and volunteers about the latest improvements to medical care at the base.