Gen. Mark A. Welsh III in his confirmation hearing July 19 to become the next Air Force chief of staff, was optimistic about the service’s fiscal challenges, but warned there are limits to how much it can cut.
Welsh, who currently commands U.S. Air Forces Europe, addressed the full range of issues confronting the Air Force, from sexual assault to the mix of active and reserve forces to building the force to defeat future threats. If confirmed, he will replace Gen. Norton Schwartz, who is retiring.
Welsh acknowledged the difficult fiscal environment facing the military, but also was upbeat. “I am very excited about the opportunity to work with you to find ways to reduce our deficit and to keep our Air Force trained, equipped and ready to defend our nation, its citizens and its interests.”
Still, he warned that the so-called sequestration measure in the deficit reduction law that will force DOD to cut more than $500 billion more from the defense budget beginning in January, will be catastrophic.
In Europe, officials have tried to look at the impact of sequestration at the operational level, Welsh said.
“The impact is almost immediate, just from the perspective of training and readiness,” he said. “If you assume a 14 percent budget cut across the board, which is what I’m assuming as I look down the road, everything is affected.”
The Air Force’s ability to provide ready, deployable units would be affected. “Our ability to keep airplanes flying and train in specific munitions to support counterterrorism activity in either (U.S. Central Command or U.S. Africa Command) is affected,” he said.
Welsh also addressed what he said is the perception by some governors that personnel cuts in the fiscal 2013 budget request would disproportionally impact the Air National Guard. The general said he was not part of the discussions on the 2013 budget, and doesn’t know how the proposal was translated into reducing, shifting or eliminating specific units and equipment.
“Having said that, I think what matters the most today is how we move forward from here, because we’re in a place we cannot stay,” he said.
Any decisions on the future Air Guard must have “a more inclusive coordination process” and should include discussions of state missions up front, the general said.
“It has to include better coordination and information sharing, not just with the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, but with the National Guard Bureau,” he said. “And clearly the link between the National Guard Bureau, the Council of Governors, the (state adjutants general), has got to be energized in a more meaningful and productive way.”
If confirmed, Welsh said, “I will work very closely with General Grass and with our great Air National Guard commander and Air Reserve director to help adjust this process so that we never end up here again.”
Welsh also addressed the problem of sexual assault in the service. Courts martial are underway in San Antonio of military training instructors accused of multiple counts of sexual crimes. The Air Force has put a lot of effort into eliminating sexual assault in the military, but “what we have been doing is not working,” he said.
The service has tried many approaches, including training at all service levels to combat sexual crimes, Welsh said.
“We do annual refresher training. We have completed bystander intervention training for the entire uniformed Air Force over the last six months or so. We have new special prosecutors. We have additional … investigators who specialize in investigating these cases,” he said. “Everyone is trying to do the right thing and figure out some way of stopping this. But the fact is, we haven’t. In fact, we haven’t even reversed the trend.”
The service has made progress in investigating the crimes, providing victim care and in protecting those who report assaults, the general said.
“The one thing none of us have figured out how to do is stop the perpetrator before the crime,” he said. “The simple fact is, the goal for [ending] sexual assault in the United States Air Force … is not a declining trend. It’s zero. We don’t accept that there can be more than zero aircraft accidents in a year or zero suicides in a year. And for this crime, the goal is zero.”
Commanders and supervisors must speak up about the crime of sexual assault, Welsh said. “We have to get that institutionalized in our Air Force,” he said.
“The other thing we need to do … is look at a series of things to attack that perpetrator side of the equation,” he added, and suggested that better screening into the service could be in order.
Welsh grew up in a family of pilots, and said he is excited about the opportunity to lead “the world’s finest air force.” He said U.S. airmen around the world do so much for America.
“Today and every day, those airmen move people and cargo to every corner of the world,” he said. “They conduct (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) operations for every combatant commander. They conduct life-saving aero-medical evacuations for our wounded warriors, and they bring our fallen comrades home to the nation and the families who love them.”
Airmen clear roadside bombs, provide critical resupply with tactical air drops and armed ground convoys, deliver space-based communication and navigation to missile defense warnings, Welsh said.
“They fight shoulder to shoulder with Army, Navy and Marine Corps comrades on the battlefield, and they patrol the skies above them, ready to respond when lives are on the line.”