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Afghanistan : Roche Visits Bagram

By Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs.

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.

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.

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 Freedom.

“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 it.”

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,’” he said.

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 total force.

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 his mind.

“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 capabilities.

The secretary told 455th EOG Airmen to keep up the good work.

“Thank you for what you are doing,” he said.

Related Links

 Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche

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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).