Air Force

March 17, 2016

SECAF checks in on F-35 mission

56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Senior Airman Devante Williams
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James receives instruction from Lt. Col. Rhett Hierlmeier, 56th Training Squadron director of operations, on a flight simulator March 10 at Luke Air Force Base. James toured the Academic Training Center and was briefed on the progress of F-35 Lightning II operations, pilot training and more. She held an all-call to thank Airmen and gave her impressions of Luke.

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Luke Air Force Base March 9 and 10, to meet with Airmen and gain a better understanding of its mission with a focus on F-35 Lightning II operations, and its maintenance and training facilities.

During her first visit to the base, James held an all-call where she took time to thank Airmen and give her impressions of Luke.

“Wow, what a great total force story we have going on here,” she said. “We have active-duty, the Reserve component, civilians and fantastic contractor support working side-by-side with our international partners. That is the broadest of the broad total force story, and I’m impressed with it.”

Most of James’ day involved briefings about F-35 operations and touring F-35 facilities.

James spoke about how impressed she was with the leadership team with respect to F-16 and F-35 training, as well as her tour of different parts of base and interacting with Airmen in their work centers.

“When it comes to the F-35 program, this is a program that has really taken off,” James said. “Pilots and maintainers are being trained, sorties are being flown and challenges are being overcome. There is a ‘can-do’ spirit here.”

The SECAF’s visit included stops at the Academic Training Center, a state-of-the-art training center for fighter pilots, and the 61st Fighter Squadron and 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, the first squadrons to fly and maintain the F-35 at Luke.

During her tour, James discussed everything from flight equipment, the performance of ALIS, the F-35’s autonomic logistics information system, the next generation F-35 helmet and Luke’s partnerships with other nations training here.

James voiced how impressed she was of the support she has seen for the 56th Fighter Wing’s mission to train the world’s greatest F-35 and F-16 fighter pilots from Arizona leaders such as Gov. Doug Ducey and community groups like Luke West Valley Partnership.

She also remarked how the work that Luke Airmen are doing to accomplish that mission will give America aerial victory in the future.

“I’m truly blown away by all you are accomplishing here,” James said. “You truly are making the future of our Air Force happen here today. The crucial training capabilities that you are providing will allow the United States to prevail in any kind of fight, particularly that high-end type of fight: the anti-access, area-denial hard fight.”

During her speech, James made points on global security, a smaller Air Force, the need to modernize the force and increase overall readiness, as well as discussing her priorities for the Air Force.

James fielded a few questions from the audience before departing, but not before giving Luke one last thank you.

“Team Luke, you are doing a fantastic job,” James said. “These are critical capabilities for today, as well as for the future of our Air Force, and you are going to make it happen for us all.”

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