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America's Air Force - Maintaining the Trust of a Nation

America's Air Force - Maintaining the Trust of a Nation

Remarks delivered by General Michael E. Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, to the Air Force Association Convention, Washington D.C., September 12, 2001.

My thanks to the Air Force Association for all you do, year in and year out, to support the men and women of our great Air Force. It is truly an honor to be with those who in the past and today, have helped build America's Air Force.

America's Air Force is incredibly busy in the far reaches of this globe -- incredible men and women engaged in the full spectrum of missions in defense of America. They make it look easy. As Tiger Woods makes golf look easy. He's done it in the U.S., British and Canadian opens -- our folks have to do it in the "world open." But it's not easy, not by a long shot. That's what professionals do, and I would like to focus on Air Force people today.

Air Force people and mission

In Southwest Asia, our professionals have been engaged in combat operations for the past decade. On almost a daily basis, our aircrews are fired upon and respond with force to police the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. It is a perilous mission for peace and stability in the region. Many live in austere conditions, many back for their fourth or fifth rotation, but when I visit them I can see the pride in their purpose and sense the professionalism in their performance.

That professionalism is just as obvious when, natural or humanitarian disasters threaten. When floodwaters so devastated the people of Mozambique and South Africa, they were there to respond. Air Force people and aircraft provided relief distribution, aerial assessment of damage and water levels, and critical search and rescue. In a 21-day international effort, our airmen moved hundreds of displaced people and 2 million pounds of relief supplies. We didn't do it by ourselves. We were part of a team of nations and organizations, concerned for the welfare of those suffering.

We're a part of the peacekeeping team providing stability in the Balkans. More than 2,000 of America's airmen are supporting Balkan air operations. In the past two years, we've flown more than 31,000 sorties, providing the top cover for NATO, in peace efforts in this fragile region of the world.

On this side of the Atlantic, in Central America, Air Force airfield experts, traffic controllers and security forces are supporting Joint Task Force-Bravo at Soto Cano (Air Base, Honduras). They support counterdrug, search and rescue, and humanitarian operations. Air Force medical teams travel to Honduras every year, as volunteers, to perform life-changing surgeries. Such work is a win-win. The medical teams get valuable training in field conditions. More importantly, in the words of our airmen, "One of the best benefits to the United States and the military has to be the goodwill we create."

Back home, the missions are just as diverse and demanding. For instance, we conducted our 1,800th launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in support of space missions. We've continued to train Air Force and military personnel from around the world, to build international bonds and interoperability.

In the West, active, Reserve and Air National Guard aircraft, including specialized C-130s, have contributed to the fight against ravaging forest fires. They have dispensed nearly 2 million gallons of fire retardant in treacherous terrain and flight conditions.

In the Far East, our forces sit on constant alert -- vigilant and prepared to respond to threats to our alliances.

The people of the Air Force do these missions with truly remarkable professionalism. This year, despite these intense demands, we're on the verge of setting a new record low in the history of the Air Force for the number of aircraft accidents. Further, we're on target for our best year ever in ground safety. These records are all the more impressive when you consider the conditions under which they are performed and the scope of our worldwide operations.

Last year we won a tremendous victory over aggression and inhumanity in the Balkans. In the coverage of the air war over Serbia, you didn't see the time our people spent loading pallets, building tent cities or coaxing cannibalized aircraft. You didn't see the shortfalls endured back home to ensure the front-line forces had everything needed. You seldom saw the pain of separations from loved ones or sacrifices of the families. And you didn't hear complaints. What you did hear is how proud they are of what they do and who they do it with.

And, they do it so professionally, without fanfare, that many could forget they're out there. Those people -- our people -- serving, quietly and faithfully. They are the key to our successes. They come first. And no one comes close.

During this AFA week, we recognize outstanding performance with awards like the 12 outstanding airmen, the team excellence awards, the Schilling Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Flight, or the Gerrity Award for Logistics Management and many others. We're proud of the winners, because we know they also represent the unsung members of our Air Force who live every day by our core values.

"People first" is not just a slogan -- it's a priority of action. During the past several years we've worked hard to improve the quality of life that our people deserve. Working with the administration and Congress, AFA has helped us to improve pay, adjust the pay table, assure just retirement compensation and ensure more equitable pay to military retirees who wish to continue to serve. This year we accelerated a raise in housing allowances as we pursue the goal of full compensation for housing within five years. With AFA's involvement, we continue to examine pharmacy benefits, and we're working on TRICARE improvements across-the-board, not just for active-duty members and their families, but also for our retirees with whom we must keep the promise -- there is much left to do.

Health and home go hand in hand. Our military family housing is so important to the security of our military families. It is a haven for families separated for deployments -- and we must continue our priority efforts to revitalize it through new construction and privatization where that makes sense. Quality of life is indeed part of our readiness equation.


Readiness has many facets. The Secretary (of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters) and I, along with the Air Force leadership, and many of you here, have worked hard over the past three years to stem the decline in readiness. With the help of the administration and Congress we have put additional billions of dollars a year toward our readiness accounts, reflected in depot maintenance work and spare parts for our force. That is having an effect as we see the empty bin refilling and cannibalization rates level off. But we have not turned readiness around. At best we've leveled off, and those efforts are at the expense of stretched modernization programs and substantially under funding our infrastructure where our people work and live.

And though near-term readiness is the flap du jour, the real issue for our Air Force for the future is how to recapitalize the rapidly aging force to meet the new challenges of the 21st century. We must invest in tomorrow's readiness as well. Our people -- our airmen -- whom we ask to do these tough missions, deserve nothing less.

And the one issue that has concerned us the most in the past several years has been people. It is possible to have the best equipment in the world, but without world-class people, it's only machinery.

On the recruiting front, we have put on a concerted effort. In a booming economy, in a society less knowledgeable of the military and a population less prone to serve, recruiting efforts require precision focus. Last year we missed our recruiting goal by 1,700 even though we recruited more people than we did in previous years. We raised the bar higher without putting enough additional resources to the problem.

This year we set the bar high again -- and this year I'm happy to report we will make our overall recruiting goal. We are doing it while maintaining our high standards. That success is a great tribute to the efforts of our undersecretary, Carol DiBattiste; our Vice (Chief of Staff), (Gen.) John Handy; (Gen.) Hal Hornburg and all those in Air Education and Training Command, and Air Force Recruiting Service who have worked this issue so hard.

An extension of our recruiting efforts are the commercials we have built and that have been aired during this convention -- what do you think? And how about the narrator? Did you know that's our own Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Jim Finch?

As you can tell, these commercials are not only targeted at possible recruits, but also at the people who influence recruits. America's mothers and fathers, family members, teachers, advisors and coaches who have such a great impact on young peoples' decisions to serve their country.

There is also a side benefit, showing that service to this nation is a noble calling with rewards that go far beyond just monetary compensation. In a way they also work our most pressing problem -- the retention of our great officers and NCOs.

As you know we have begun to air these commercials in theaters and on prime time television. One of our commanders told me that one of his airmen stepped up to thank him for airing them. The commander asked why, and the airman related that while at the movie, with his date, the Air Force "people" commercial came on. At its conclusion, he told her that's what he did and she kissed him. I've been thinking maybe we'll have to modify the tag line, "no one comes close."

As you know, we are a retention service because we need experienced personnel to not only be prepared to deploy with no notice to fight and win, but they must also deal with an increasingly aging force of aircraft that are tough to deploy and maintain. Shortfalls in retention are shortfalls in experience are shortfalls in readiness.

For instance, we have only three-fourths of the mid-level aircraft mechanics needed, who are qualified to work on aircraft without supervision. That's one example of the great burden on our mid-level NCOs. We need them to do their task, train younger airmen to task and we need their expertise when tasked for deployment. That's a triple whammy. If we don't fix it, this workload will continue to stress our people, while the civilian opportunities pull at them. As another example, we still have a shortage of more than 1,000 pilots, and it will take some years to recover. Keeping experienced communications-computer and technical engineers is also a challenge. The good news is retention in some areas has improved; we have increased our training to produce the needed specialties, but it will take time to replace lost experience.

We've also initiated a program to return former Air Force members to active duty. We have nearly 800 "takers" so far. Many of those who've returned, I might add, have indicated that salaries may have been the incentive to leave the service, but the camaraderie and sense of mission were missing -- so they came home to the Air Force family.

Another retention booster is our aerospace expeditionary force schedule, which puts predictability into people's deployments and shares the burden more equitably. The virtues of the AEF are many, but one of the great benefits is the positive effect for our people. Time away on deployment -- away from family, away from educational facilities, away from jobs in the case of our guard and reserve members -- is tough but necessary. It's part of our duty. Mission success has its own rewards, but to make it predictable allows our people to plan their lives. We have done that with AEF. It is a success!

We are now entering the rotation of our last AEFs in our first cycle -- AEFs nine and 10. When we began the cycle, except for the aviation packages, most of our expeditionary operations overseas were filled by individuals. In AEFs nine and 10 almost 95 percent of the people are deploying as teams. Teams trained to task and confident in their teammates.

When I spoke with this convention last year, we were just weeks away from implementing our AEF schedule. Forming the AEFs involved changes in doctrine, organization and process. Large organizations don't turn on a dime, but the professionalism in America's Air Force -- our enlisted members, officers and civilians, active, Guard and Reserve -- have made this concept work in just one year. They turned on a dime and gave nine cents in change.

In our one-year look back, we see that the air reserve component now contributes more than 20 percent of the total AEF aviation packages and 10 percent of the expeditionary combat support requirements. We've added 2,600 billets to our wings and have 3,200 more designated for this next year to ease the burdens of our bases. Air Mobility Command has been able to reduce the number of airlift sorties required to deploy forces by 22 percent. And above all we've been able to put more predictability and stability into the lives of our people. We set a goal of notifying tasked units 120 days in advance. This was a struggle at the beginning, but we met that goal this summer.

More and more, the missions we conduct range from the equivalent to a major theater air war, such as that in Serbia, to peacekeeping, to relatively small-scale responses to flooding or earthquakes, to military-to-military contact teams. That is the full spectrum operation and our people have delivered it. There's more to do to set the conditions for their success. We will iron out the wrinkles and round out the size and capability of our 10 AEFs. But, if there's one thing I know for certain, it's that Air Force people will make it work, will stand proud of their accomplishments, and from the outside make it look easy.

Earlier this year, we published our vision for America's Air Force -- global vigilance, reach and power. We declared up-front that our people are the foundation of our force. It also made, at its conclusion, this commitment, and I quote: "We will never forget the trust the American people place in us. They count on us to protect their ideals, their security and their prosperity -- and they give us their finest young men and women to sustain that effort. We will keep faith with those young men and women -- America's airmen -- and they will keep faith with the nation. Together we are America's Air Force." And I'll add, no one comes close.

In closing I would like to thank the Air Force Association -- Doyle Larsen, Tom McKee, John Shaud and all those in this audience who have done so much through all the years for our Air Force people -- our one force, our one family -- our great Air Force.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).