TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, OKLA. (AFNS) -- After nearly four days of engaging with Airmen and community leaders at Tinker Air Force Base, the Air Force chief of staff (CSAF) cited Tinker as a "crown jewel" doing remarkable work for the nation.
During his visit, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III repeatedly expressed his appreciation for the way Tinker Airmen are carrying out the vital national defense missions here.
"Every combatant commander in the world brags about you," he said during one of his three all calls with Airmen. "They all want more of you ... more of what you bring to the fight. They all recognize the incredible job you are doing here."
Whether talking about the work of the Air Force Sustainment Center, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, the 72nd Air Base Wing, the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing, the 507th Air Refueling Wing, the 552nd Air Control Wing or other Air Force active and reserve component units here, the CSAF had praise across the board for the way Tinker units execute their respective missions.
"All of the issues we will talk about (during these visits) are interesting, but what is important to the Air Force is that the work that you do -- the work here at Tinker -- is as exceptional here as it is across our Air Force. You are the machine that keeps this enterprise moving," he said.
While viewing some of the OC-ALC's KC-135 Program Depot Maintenance operations, Welsh was shown how incorporating the AFSC way has resulted in increased speed and throughput gains. He also visited the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group, the 76th Software Maintenance Group and B-52 Program Depot Maintenance, where he was shown other examples of how AFSC units strive to become more cost effective every day.
"When I travel the Air Force and I look at the condition of the platforms which are flying 40, 50 and 60 plus years after they began flying ... it's stunning, actually unbelievable," Welsh said. "We can do it because we have facilities, organizations and people like you."
Welsh described the sense of pride in the OC-ALC as palpable. "I'm a big believer that pride is a key to our Air Force," he said. "I saw people working on airplanes who were as proud of the job they do rebuilding an airplane as are those in any mission area in our Air Force."
The complex wasn't the only unit where the general saw examples of Airmen making every dollar count.
At the 72nd Security Forces Armory, Welsh talked with defenders to learn how the unit is coping with the transition to new deployment cycles and how they are continuously improving operations to improve their work centers.
"For the past 25 years, you (Air Force units) have been working pretty hard," the general said. “You have been deploying, coming back, training, working hard and deploying again."
Welsh said one of the objectives of the Air Force plan to right-size the force is to rebuild career fields heavily hit by past reductions so units such as the 72nd SFS aren't working 12-hour shifts for years at a time.
While at the 552nd ACW, the general thanked the wing for continuously providing command and control on a scale unequalled by any other force.
"Command and control is the heartbeat of U.S. joint military activity," he said. "You deploy constantly all over the world doing what no one else can do. You are the first in and generally the last to leave. From both the air and the ground, you set the standard in this mission area every day."
Welsh also explained why the Air Force is proposing divesting seven of the wing's E-3 Sentry (AWACS) from the fleet. He stressed that E-3 modernization must be completed to keep the aircraft ready and capable in the environment the Air Force expects to fly and fight in over the next 10 to 15 years.
"The problem is that as resources come down, we don't have money for modernization," he said. "We will trade off airframes now to do the modernizations we need. Not modernizing is not an option for our Air Force."
The general also saw examples of the how the 72nd ABW is working to enable Tinker AFB’s success through programs such as the installation's innovative resiliency program. Welsh and his wife, Betty, heard firsthand testimonials from people who had participated in the program.
Efforts to enhance resiliency fit well into the general's focus on caring.
"We have to care more," Welsh explained. "We have to care about the people around us because I truly believe we work with the best men and women on earth. You have to care enough to get beyond just 'good morning' and 'how are you.'"
"I'm a huge believer that every Airman has a story. Some are inspirational, some are sad and some just make you feel good," the general said. "But each story is unique. If you don't know the story, you can't lead that Airman as well as you could otherwise. It's really that simple."
Welsh also said that while people care about each other, there are still some things going on inside the Air Force that are unacceptable, such as harassment and sexual assault.
"We have people who don't feel respected in the workplace, who don't feel that their opinions are valued,” he said. “We have people who don't understand that diversity is the strength of our Air Force. It's not acceptable that someone doesn't feel valued or they don't feel part of the team. We are just better than that."
Welsh said all Airmen must care more about becoming better at what they do.
"Every day we have to care about getting better at our jobs," he urged. "We must fight and win our nation's wars. There is no second place."
The general said he saw many examples of people doing that at Tinker: working hard to improve efficiency, reduce costs and use fewer resources so the Air Force can use them in other areas. "What you are doing here is what we have to do Air Force-wide," he said.
In addition to accompanying the general on several unit visits and community events, Mrs. Welsh had a full schedule of her own, learning about initiatives inside and outside the gates which support the Tinker quality of life. Her schedule included visits to the 72nd Medical Group, the base chapel, the Balfour Beatty Community Center in military housing, the 72nd SFS key spouses and the Atkinson Heritage Center off base.
One of the programs highlighted is the Home Away From Home program, which provides single Airmen with a "host family" from the local community. In just its first year, there are 206 Airmen and Sailors enrolled in the program.
General Welsh also engaged with the Tinker community, speaking at a bridge dedication in Moore, Oklahoma, for a fallen Airman, addressing a group of civic leaders during a luncheon in downtown Oklahoma City and serving as the featured speaker for the annual Tinker Community Dining Out.
At the bridge dedication ceremony, the general honored Airman Kamenski D. Watson, a native of Moore, who was killed in a highway accident in 2008.
"His commitment to family, the Air Force and his country represent an idea. It's the idea that there are some things that are eternal," Welsh said. "There are things that matter. Faith matters. Family matters. Hard work matters. The idea of service before self matters. That's why I am so proud to join you here today."
Watson's brother, Senior Master Sgt. Alonzo Watson, and his stepsister, Tech. Sgt. Josie Maple, both in the Air Force, were also in attendance at the dedication.
During the community luncheon and Tinker Community Dining Out, Welsh thanked Oklahomans for their legacy of support to Tinker AFB's missions and its Airmen.
The general cited efforts such as the recent partnership to acquire the land needed for the KC-46A Pegasus beddown as vital if the Air Force is to adapt to the pace of change.
"The KC-46A is one of our three top modernization priorities, along with the F-35 (Lightning II) and the long-range strike bomber," he said. "Even when we are done buying the last of the 179 KC-46s in 2028, we will still have about 215 65-year-old or older KC-135s in the fleet."
The general went on to say the Air Force must continue to match the pace of change or risk becoming irrelevant. He warned that air forces that fall behind the technology curve become irrelevant and when an air force becomes irrelevant the joint force becomes irrelevant.
"The way airpower now operates, forces on the modern battlefield without airpower will lose," he said.
During the dining out, Welsh talked about some of the impressive mission and community accomplishments here and again thanked both groups for all they do to sustain the Air Force.
Saying the Air Force represents the spirit of America, his address included several poignant Airmen's stories reflecting the core values of America's Air Force.
"I am so proud of the men and women in your Air Force," he said.