Almost a thousand Airmen, government civilians and contractors filled the base theater to hear Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III talk to Team Edwards about current issues and future challenges involving the service.
Welsh, along with his wife, Betty, arrived Jan. 29 for a three-day visit where he received test program updates and met with the Edwards workforce and family members.
“The first thing I’d like to thank you for is just being as good as you are at what you do,” Welsh said during the all call. “One of the cool things about my job is that I get to visit all the leadership in our government, the leadership of the combatant commands, the leadership of the other services that we support routinely, and I get to ask them how their Airmen are doing, how’s the Air Force doing at providing you with what you need? The answer is a resounding ‘You rock.’ You’re fantastically good at what you do.”
Welsh also paid particular attention to civilian Airmen and contractors for their hard work day in and day out, delivering an apology on behalf of the Air Force for last year’s furloughs and Government Shutdown.
“We rewarded your hard work by furloughing you last year, which was a complete breach of trust and breach of faith in my view. And then the Government Shutdown happened.
Then we just piled on. All I want to tell you is I am sorry,” Welsh said “The [Secretary of the Air Force] and I will do everything in our power to keep anyone from even considering something like that again. I know the reason it happened, but the fact that it happened is unacceptable.”
From a productivity standpoint, Welsh said the Air Force lost almost eight million man hours of work because of furloughs. “Eight million man hours in all those critical areas you work in.”
Welsh said he viewed the service as better than ever, but after 22 years of constant deployments for uniformed Airmen, he said the Air Force is “tired.”
“Most of our Air Force is just tired because it’s been a lifetime of deployment for those wearing the uniform. For the folks not wearing the uniform, a lot of them are deploying too; we tend to forget that. Our civilian airmen also deploy. And when they all deploy, they kind of carry the weight back of the deployment back home,” he said. “You work longer hours, do more work because your full office isn’t there.
But it’s not just Airmen; Welsh also recognized the toll this takes on families. Add in budget and personnel cuts and it creates lots of frustration, “everybody is confused, concerned and wants to know where we are headed.”
Welsh said the way forward revolves around three key points: common sense, communication and caring.
“Too often we find things where our TOs and AFIs, our DOD policies, even the law don’t align with common sense. And when that happens we need to change the TO, the AFI, the DOD policy or the law, and we can,” said Welsh. “You just have to help me identify those things that don’t align with common sense.”
He then charged commanders, supervisors, and every Airmen to identify the things they can change today.
“You just have to believe you can change them. Nobody in the world knows the mission you’re doing today here better than you do. I trust you.”
Welsh commended 412th Test Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Brewer’s Project84 initiative, which emphasizes local ideas for change to save money and improve efficiency.
The general then talked about the improving communication throughout the force. He cited how last March, when tuition assistance was cut for the remainder of the fiscal year due to sequestration, many Airmen did not understand the reasoning behind the decision.
“Tuition assistance is part of our operations and maintenance bucket of money, so the only place to put money back into tuition assistance is from operations and maintenance,” he said. “As part of that 12.5 percent cut, we also grounded 33 flying squadrons. We were also looking at 22 days of civilian forced furlough.”
In order to fund TA, Welsh explained that additional flying squadrons would have been grounded, directly impact the mission. He said he believes that was the right choice and that most Airmen would make that choice as well.
“The problem is that folks didn’t know why we made that choice, so people talked to their congressman and education offices encouraged Airmen to go to their legislators,” Welsh said. “Everybody was trying to do the right thing so [the Air Force] was ordered to put money back into tuition assistance and we had to take money out of those accounts we just talked about so that affects flying hours.”
Welsh wanted Team Edwards to know that he will continue to put out information and stressed consulting the chain of command for any questions on policy changes.
The general then transitioned into his third key – caring.
“We work with and beside the greatest men and women on earth in my opinion. We can’t care enough about them so we just need to care more,”he said.
Welsh stressed that every Airmen needs to look out for one another and for Airmen to get to know each other better. He referred to an AF statistic, which shows that most sexual assault victims do not report the act to anyone stressing that the Air Force team needs to get to know one another better.
“All the things we’re dealing with right now on the people side of the Air Force; whether it’s resiliency, suicides, sexual harassment, sexual assaults, you pick a topic. Big Air Force programs aren’t going to fix them. What’s going to fix them is us knowing each other better. It’s Airman to Airman, not big program stuff that’s going to make a difference.”
After taking several questions from the audience, Welsh closed out the all call by demonstrating to Team Edwards why he continues to serve in the Air Force after 37 years. He asked an Airman that he met earlier in the day to stand up and told him, “I’d die for you. And, I’m naÔve enough to believe you’d do the same. That’s why I love the Air Force.”