SecAF visits key operating locations in European theater

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Public Affairs
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James completed a multination visit throughout Europe June 13-24.

The secretary met with Airmen, civilians, host nation community leaders, and allied and partner nation military leaders in countries including Germany, Belgium and Poland during her second visit to the continent since her appointment as the service's 23rd secretary in December 2013.

"Having been on the job as secretary of the Air Force for about a year and a half now, I've divided my time between Washington with policy matters and budgetary matters," James said. "But the best part of the job is days like this when I can go out and about and see our fantastic Airmen in action around the country and around the world, especially here in Europe, always working very, very closely with our partners."

The secretary conducted all calls with Airmen stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Lask AB, Poland; and Supreme Headquarters Allied Partners Europe in Mons, Belgium. She discussed her three top Air Force priorities, her perspective on legislative affairs in Washington and answered questions from Airmen on topics from sequestration and retirement benefits, to the service's future.

"There are a lot of things going on in the Air Force, and the secretary will be talking about them," said Gen. Frank Gorenc, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, before introducing James at an all call. "Here's the challenge to you: as the secretary talks, make sure that if you have a question on your mind you ask it. You have the subject matter expert here to answer the question. If not, we'll get the answer for all of you. One of the things we do in our Air Force is to develop and nurture our most important asset: and that's every single one of you."
Washington update

During each all call, the secretary updated Airmen on her top three priorities: taking care of people, balancing today's readiness with tomorrow's modernization, and making every dollar count.

James noted how international affairs rapidly changed since her 2013 appointment, particularly Russia's invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, the spread of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and terrorism.

Throughout these developments, the secretary observed how Airmen continued to serve in higher operations tempos while enduring reduced manning and budgets through sequestration.

Today's Air Force remains the smallest in terms of the numbers of people since it became a separate service in 1947, James said. She added how this downward change could be reflected in Spangdahlem AB's mission: the base supported three fighter squadrons in the 1990s, while it houses just one today.

"You have pulled it all together," James said. "You have been everywhere we have asked you to go, but there are some strains out there, and I worry about those strains and so does General Welsh, and we're trying to work on these back in Washington."

In February 2015, James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III recommended a proposal to increase Air Force funding by more than $10 billion above the currently allowed levels under the sequester.

"Sequestration is still the law of the land," James said. "Nonetheless, we have come forward with a proposal for our defense budget that busts sequestration. The whole world has changed; we don't believe this is adequate, and we're going to ask for more."

James said the increased budget would be marked by investments like the F-35 Lightning II multirole fighter aircraft; a new tanker currently under development; the engineering, manufacturing and developing phase of the new long-range strike bomber; and investments in nuclear, space and cyber capabilities.

She added that the budget presented tough choices such as retiring aircraft over time and submitting a new round of potential base closures.

"I tell you this only for situational awareness -- it's not something for you to worry about, because you are the frontlines," James said. "You need to focus on the mission, focus on each other, focus on family and the important things. General Welsh and I, your senior leaders, we are the ones focusing on the budget and leading. Every year is foggy, it looks messy, but eventually the fog clears and we will move forward and we will execute, particularly on those three priorities."

Yet regardless of any fiscal climate, James reminded Airmen they have the ability and the duty to find and submit better ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs for the American taxpayer. The 'Powered by Airmen, Fueled by Innovation' website and Facebook page as part of Make Every Dollar Count initiative touted by Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer, served as one outlet for Airmen to do so, James said.

"There are big ways and small ways to do this, and everybody has a role to play," she said. "This is one way that all Airmen, regardless of where you are stationed or career field, can input ideas to us, and we will consider them and possibly implement them."


The secretary visited Warsaw, Poland, June 21-22, for meetings with U.S. Ambassador Stephen Mull at the U.S. Embassy and later with Polish Minister of Defense Tomasz Siemoniak at the country's defense ministry. Between the meetings, she participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the country's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier alongside Polish air force airmen.

James then visited Lask AB, Poland, spending time with the Airmen assigned to Det. 1, 52nd Operations Group. The Airmen stationed there work to foster bilateral defense ties, enhance regional security and increase interoperability among NATO allies through combined training exercises with periodic rotational aircraft.

"You are truly on the cutting edge of a foreign policy and military approach by the United States against a very worrisome situation from Russia," James said. "This is a small team of people delivering huge results, punching above your weight and doing a magnificent job."

The secretary also met with Polish and U.S. airmen conducting such exercises on the installation including F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots and maintainers assigned to the 480th Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, and the South Carolina Air National Guard's 157th Fighter Squadron.


In addition to her stops at Ramstein AB, Germany, James visited the 52nd Fighter Wing's Airmen and assets at Spangdahlem AB June 22-23. The base remains engaged in numerous joint, bilateral and multilateral exercises and operations including Operation Atlantic Resolve and the current theater security package to reassure U.S. allies in Eastern Europe.

"What you are doing here in Spangdahlem and our partnership with Germany is squarely in the middle of all the most important aspects of what we're now facing around the world," James said during an all call June 23. "I hope you feel a sense of pride and the sense of accomplishment that I feel as I have reviewed this entire wing's contributions in this part of the world."

At the invitation of the USAFE-AFAFRICA commander, the secretary attended a community relations dinner in Wittlich, Germany, June 22, with civic and business leaders from throughout the Eifel region.

The secretary and commander discussed matters relating to the European Infrastructure Consolidation review, which will include the relocation of the 606th Air Control Squadron from Spangdahlem AB to Aviano AB, Italy, and the future inclusion of the 352nd Special Operations Group from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, to Spangdahlem AB.

"This place is exploding in a positive way," James said during the all call June 23. "In the years to come, there will be additional assets coming to Spangdahlem, particularly with some special operations assets which will include additional people."

During her all call, the secretary highlighted the innovative ideas of Spangdahlem AB Airmen, like Tech. Sgt. Kenyatta Clemons, a 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron phase support technician, and Otmar Schadeck, the 52nd LRS hazardous materials civilian supervisor. Their suggestion of a consolidated green room to obtain and dispose of cleaning supplies reduced 350 man hours and generated thousands of dollars in savings for Spangdahlem AB, which may also be applied across the Air Force, James said.

"Don't let anyone put your idea down, or say that it's stupid," Clemons said after the ceremony. "Don't doubt your idea -- it might be the next best thing, and it might help future generations of Airmen save money."

The secretary's visit concluded with a tour of the 726th Air Mobility Squadron, an Air Mobility Command tenant unit at Spangdahlem AB known as the "Gateway to Europe."

"We're very happy to have her here," said Col. Joe McFall, the 52nd Fighter Wing commander, in his introduction. "She's a champion of the Air Force fighting for us on Capitol Hill and doing battle with Washington. We couldn't ask for a better advocate."


The SecAF's visit in Belgium included a stop at Chièvres AB, Belgium, and a meeting with Gen. Philip Breedlove, the commander of Supreme Allied Command, Europe, and an all call with Airmen assigned to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium, June 23.

"I'm so impressed with what you all produce," James said to the Airmen. "The allies around Europe and around the world rely more and more on the United States Air Force, and that's great testimony to all of you.

"Thank you very much for the enormously important work, the hard work and the frequent deployments," James said. "You are shouldering a lot. You are doing a magnificent job. Thank you for always being forward and ready now."