Deployed airmen are ready and motivated, but those based in the United States face fiscal challenges that sap morale, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said April 22.
“The Airmen that we send downrange are well-trained – they are pumped,” Donley told the Defense Writers Group. “There’s no doubt they are doing what they signed up to do in the military. They are doing their jobs in a combat environment.”
Donley, the longest-serving Air Force leader, said he has been struck by how connected and educated the force is. “I can go downrange to an Airman’s call at Bagram [Airfield, Afghanistan] and get questions on sequestration, or tuition assistance or the retirement plan,” he said.
Airmen are connected, and they follow what defense leaders and Congress are doing, the secretary said.
“They know we are living through challenging times,” he added.
In his experience, Donley said, this “connectedness” is a change for airmen that has had an effect across the institution. Airmen listen when Congress talks about sequestration or budget cuts that last 10 years, he said. For many of the younger airmen, he noted, this is their first experiences with a constrained fiscal environment.
“Those who have been in 20 to 30 years know there are ups and downs,” he said.
Airmen also know the Air Force faces huge modernization challenges, the secretary said.
“Equipment they are operating is beyond what we thought its service life was going to be,” he said. “And they know that the training environment they come back to … is not as robust and not as demanding as it used to be.”
Donley took over as acting Air Force secretary in June 2008, after then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked for then-Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne to resign over concern about the Air Force’s focus and performance in its nuclear mission. That was a low point for morale in the Air Force, Donley said, adding that he believes morale has risen overall since then.
“Airmen downrange are performing magnificently,” he said. “Air Force men and women know they are making a difference in the lives of those who serve on the ground.”
The Air Force is key to operations in Afghanistan and around the world, Donley added.
“The Air Force is providing a lot of glue to hold current joint and coalition operations together,” he said.