Secretary of Air Force talks top issues

Air Force photo by Kelly White

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speaks with Airmen about her priorities for the Air Force and fielded questions from attendees at a Tinker Auditorium All Call March 27. Earlier in the day, Secretary James visited several units across the base, including the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, the 507th Air Refueling Wing, the 552nd Air Control Wing and the 72nd Air Base Wing.

Air Force photo by Kelly White Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speaks with Airmen about her priorities for the Air Force and fielded questions from attendees at a Tinker Auditorium All Call March 27. Earlier in the day, Secretary James visited several units across the base, including the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, the 507th Air Refueling Wing, the 552nd Air Control Wing and the 72nd Air Base Wing.

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. - -- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James thanked Team Tinker members here Friday for critical support of the nation's warfighters amid budget constraints, fewer aircraft and personnel than ever, and more demands for what they do.

"Everywhere I go, the ops tempo and the working environment is very, very busy," Secretary James said at an All Call at the Tinker Auditorium. "People are working very, very hard, and I want to thank all of you here at Tinker. From what I've seen today, there is no question in my mind that you have this enormous dedication and passion, and you really do exhibit that selfless service that we always talk about as one of our key, core tenets in the Air Force."

The 23rd Air Force secretary's first Tinker visit included visits to the Air Force Sustainment Center headquarters, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, production operations in Bldg. 9001, the 507th Air Refueling Wing, the 552nd Air Control Wing and the 72nd Air Base Wing.

Speaking to hundreds of Airmen, Secretary James delivered a comprehensive overview of her ongoing discussions with Congress in creating next year's Air Force budget, which begins Oct. 1.

She also took time to spotlight a number of Tinker successes. She asked attending civilian members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local F-211, to stand up for their volunteer work last year building Fire Station 4 on the base's west side. The effort saved the Air Force an estimated $2 million, she said.

"They took that upon themselves. They saw a need. They came up with a solution, and they stepped into the breach," said Secretary James. "Gentlemen, I salute you.

Thank you very much for that - that's excellent!"

Secretary James said she and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III have been telling members of Congress that sequestration - the off-the-top, across-the-board federal budget-cutting law - must end for the Air Force.

The secretary said lower funding has left the Air Force's combat readiness at half of what it should be to face a major enemy; leaving the Air Force needing a $10 billion increase over this year's funding to keep the Air Force strong now and in the future.

"Instead of just taking it lying down and just sort of throwing in the towel and accepting sequestration,  what we've done is we've gone forward with a budget request that would bust sequestration," Secretary James said.

The secretary said she is fighting for a 1.3 percent pay raise, ending force downsizing and protecting major national assets such as the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.

However, if the cuts go through later this fall, Air Force leaders would have to consider, again, reducing the number of AWACS aircraft and other valuable assets, hinting at last year's rejected proposal to decommission Tinker's 513th Air Control Group of AWACS, the secretary said.

"We're trying to make the strongest case in the plainest English that we know how. We have got to get rid of sequestration," the secretary said. "Sequestration is both a mechanism which would cause automatic cuts across every program of the Air Force, and it is also a funding level which is too low to meet our needs."

If sequestration stands, "we are going to have to face some extremely tough choices in the Air Force, and we project that we will not be able to meet our portion of the national defense strategy," Secretary James said.

Other highlights of the secretary's speech:
· The secretary's budget would emphasize diversity, prevention of sexual assault and better responses to such cases. "This is really important to me, and we're going to be kicking it up a notch with respect to our Special Victims Councils, as well as with SARCs (Sexual Assault Response Coordinators)," the secretary said.
· She also asked Allen Reisigl, an OC-ALC welder, to stand. Mr. Reisigl noticed that

Tinker welders were being recertified every three years when the industry standard is every five years, the secretary said. Moving Tinker's 51 welders to a five-year schedule would save about $75,000, plus more when the standard is implemented at other bases, she said. "This is one idea, but it was a good common-sense idea," the secretary said.

· Secretary James lauded the "great results" she had seen because of the AFSC Way, standardized work and deliberate process improvements implemented here.
· She asked Airmen to submit their money-saving ideas, no matter how small, to the Airmen Powered by Innovation website, which is on the us.af.mil domain. "So far we've accumulated about $37 million in projected savings from ideas that we've agreed to implement already," the secretary said.
· Secretary James thanked Karen Blackwell, the 72nd Air Base Wing community support coordinator, for leading a resiliency lunch that day with Airmen. Those at the table "talked a great deal and shared personal stories about resiliency," Secretary James said. "Resiliency is so important, not just for yourself, but to be a good Wingman for others. So Karen Blackwell, I salute you for that. It was really great, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to visit with you and your team."