Welsh cites heroes, talks modernization during Air Force Update

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Office
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III shared the spotlight with a cross-section of people he called his heroes during an emotional multimedia presentation at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 15.

During his Air Force Update, the general leveraged videos, photos and music to highlight the service’s history, current capabilities and future operational requirements, while recognizing attendees and even military therapy dogs who exemplify the Air Force’s core values.

Welsh recognized French train hero Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, honoring him with a surprise promotion to staff sergeant effective Nov. 1. Stone sews on senior airman in early October.

The general wonders, he said, if pioneers such as first Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington, first Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Carl Spaatz, and Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, would recognize the same level of effort in today’s Air Force. He said he believes so.

In July 2015, for example, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer and Sen. John McCain recognized 2nd Lt. John Pedevillano, the 306th Bomb Group’s youngest bombardier who was shot down during a historic raid, captured and subsequently liberated from a prison camp in Germany 70 years ago.

Among others, the general recognized Air Force Capt. Christy Wise, the HC-130 King pilot who nearly lost her life during a paddleboat trip after a fishing boat claimed her right leg. Wise has since competed in the Defense Department’s Warrior Games and is currently preparing for the Army 10-miler in October.

“There’s just something special about this profession; there’s something special about the people who share it, and there’s something really special about the pride that consumes them,” Welsh said.

He pondered the source of that pride.

“Maybe it’s not the airplane that hooks you at all,” Welsh said. “In some of the places our Airmen serve, maybe it’s the science of flight or maybe it’s the friendship that captures you.”

The general said whether it’s a local air show, simple observation of a civilian airliner thundering overhead or even a teacher blowing on a piece of paper to explain the concept of lift, the Air Force, for some people, becomes a passion and a commitment to a community that understands.

And Welsh takes equal pride in the service’s operational feats as he does in the people to whom he bestowed recognition during the event.

Since Welsh’s last update, the Air Force has finished its 24th consecutive year of combat operations.

“No Air Force has ever done that before,” he said.

But the “meat and potatoes of the fight,” Welsh insisted, are equipment programs such as the combat rescue helicopter, which he said is tied to the fabric of the Air Force.

Similarly, while the joint surveillance target and reconnaissance system is “phenomenal,” it’s time to recapitalize this airframe, Welsh said.

He also noted that the service continues its “incredible” success story of launch by Air Force Space Command and its global partners.

“Our great Air Force Space Command team continued to make sure that if you drop a precision weapon on the other side of the planet, it will hit where you’re aiming,” he said.

In offensive and defense space control, Welsh said senior airmen and staff sergeants are affecting every activity that occurs in the counter-terrorism war.

Welsh described the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance team as “unbelievable,” noting some 1.6 million flying hours with 35,000 ISR Airmen who support every U.S. military activity on the globe.

The cyber team, Welsh said, is broadening its knowledge base with Airmen who have been involved in over 9,000 cyber operations, in addition to defending fellow Airmen and their networks from security breaches.

Welsh described the Air Force’s mobility machine as “awesome,” citing the U.S. air refueling fleet passage of some 200 million gallons of fuel, movement of nearly a billion passengers, and execution of about 900 global aeromedical evacuation missions for diseased, injured and severely-wounded Airmen.

“We now have the capability developed by (mobility) Airmen to actually do critical surgeries in-flight,” Welsh said. “Can you imagine?”

Some of the Air Force’s “hidden gems,” Welsh shared, are the 50,000-plus Airmen conducting commanding and control, including airborne and dynamic targeting at air operations centers around the globe.

Of his recent visit to the 624th Operations Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the general reported, “We now have Airmen who’ve taken the concept of air operations centers, ISR and global operations … and are … developing a way of allocating resources to provide cyber support to forces from all services, all commands, all the time, all over the world.” And this concept, he was “a PowerPoint slide” three years ago.

Meanwhile, air staff has been developing the Air Force Future Operating Concept, which fits into a series of documents encompassing the service’s vision statement, while its global vision, reach and power outline the products the service provides theater commanders and national leaders.

But, according to Welsh, the future operating concept is more specific than an aspirational document, because it’s potentially what the Air Force could look like in 20 years.

The overall intent is to reach toward the “call to the future,” a 30-year focus on research and development, and science and technology against a changing global landscape.

The Air Force Strategic Master Plan, Welsh added, is the actual road map for getting to these goals. “Based on the money we have, what are we going to buy, develop, teach and train … to reach that operating concept?”

The future-operating concept will be released this week when Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James gives the final approval, Welsh explained. “You can even get the (application) for your phone.”

The fundamental missions, however, are not going to change, the general said. “I think the chief of staff of the Air Force number 35 or 40 is going to be standing right here -- maybe as a hologram by then -- and telling you that the mission of the United States Air Force is going to stay the same for the next 20 years.”

But, Welsh acknowledged, he hopes that future Air Force chief doesn’t report the equipment remains the same. “We must modernize our Air Force.”

As such, Welsh and other senior leaders have been trying in earnest to retain the funding for and timelines on the F-35A Lightning II, the KC-46 Pegasus and the long-range strike bomber.

“The secretary has been very faithful to these programs,” he said.

Welsh said the Air Force must continue funding for its space capabilities, as well as reinvestments in the nuclear infrastructure and cyber domain.

“If we want to have acquisition reform, we are all going to have to accept some risk,” Welsh said.