Afghanistan : Roche Visits Bagram
Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public
Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan
-- (AFPN) April
19, 2004 -- Damp, drizzly weather greeted Secretary
of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche when he visited Camp Cunningham and men and
women of the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group here April 16. But the
conditions did not dampen the spirits of the hundreds of Airmen and civilians
who enthusiastically turned out to listen to his comments.
Bagram Air Base --, Afghanistan --
Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche pauses at the gate to Camp
Cunningham, where he received a briefing from Airman 1st Class Donald Wilburn.
Secretary Roche met with the men and women of the 455th Expeditionary Operations
Group during his visit here April 16. Airman Wilburn is assigned to the 455th
Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron.
U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski
Standing upon a stage erected in an A-10 Thunderbolt II maintenance shelter, the
secretary applauded their sacrifice and dedication supporting Operation Enduring
“Thank you for what you do,” Secretary Roche said. “What you do is much
appreciated. You are at war, and you are at one of the leading edges of our Air
Force. And for that, you have our gratitude and compliments.”
Secretary Roche touched on several topics that applied directly to those serving
here. He talked about the expanding role and increased capabilities of joint
terminal air controllers, and said special operations is “not a sideline to the
Air Force, but just as mainline as anything else.” He also emphasized the
importance of the A-10 and its effectiveness in supporting ground forces.
“We have realized that our Army colleagues love the A-10, so why shouldn’t we?”
Secretary Roche said. “Therefore, we have made a point of ending the debate over
the A-10. It’s a wonderful weapon system, and we’re going to absolutely support
The secretary said the Air Force plans to take a “chunk” of the A-10 fleet and
upgrade the engines of the aircraft, install new avionics systems and furnish
them with other upgrades. He said the National Guard’s initiative of putting
targeting pods on the Thunderbolts was a great idea.
Turning to the JTACs, Secretary Roche said that individual controllers would
continue to be vested with dramatic power, even more than they have had, and
that they will have better equipment and less cumbersome loads to carry into the
field. He said that JTACs and aircraft like the A-10 help make the Air Force’s
notion of close-air support absolutely real, and they will continue to make
unmistakably clear the Air Force’s commitment to supporting land forces.
Secretary Roche said there are human relations areas where “we can get better.”
He said that he, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper and other Air
Force leaders will continue to make the following point whenever they can: “We
will not tolerate sexual assault; no Airman should ever have to fear his or her
wingman, or fear another Airman.”
He said he wanted to approach the issue in a positive manner, if possible, and
asked all Airmen to please respect each other. Secretary Roche said that
professional behavior is all the more important in a war zone, like Afghanistan,
because everyone is so dependent on one another for his or her wellbeing.
“We will have an Air Force where each Airman can give his or her best without
any kind of fear,” he said.
“And when we find that one Airman is threatening another, we’re going to ‘getchya,’”
The secretary also explained the need to reduce manpower numbers by 16,000
Airmen. One option is to expand the Palace Chase program, he said, which would
reduce active-duty numbers while bolstering manpower levels in the National
Guard. At the same time it would make the aging Guard a younger component of the
Secretary Roche said the cost of maintaining an overage of 16,000 Airmen could
add up to between $1.4 to $1.8 billion. That is money that could be used on
modernizing aircraft and purchasing spare parts and equipment, he said. At the
same time, the secretary said the welfare of his people was still foremost in
“We’re trying to find ways where we can both satisfy an individual’s aspirations
and help the Guard, while bringing us down to our normal strength, without
breaking the faith with any Airmen who want to stay with us,” he said.
Secretary Roche said an exciting era lies ahead for the Air Force. Besides
increased emphasis on close-air support functions, he cited other areas of
importance, including joint warfighting in space and increasing the precision of
weapons so that more can be done to destroy the enemy without causing collateral
damage. He also talked about the future and direction of long-range strike
The secretary told 455th EOG Airmen to keep up the good work.
“Thank you for what you are doing,” he said.
of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche