Both outgoing and incoming Air Force chiefs of staff paid tribute to airmen and their families during the transition of responsibility ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Aug. 10.
There, Gen. Norton Schwartz turned over responsibility as Air Force chief of staff and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.
Schwartz retires with over 39 years of service, and ends his career as the most senior member of the Joint Chiefs. “Norty has been a selfless, committed and determined teammate to our joint DOD interagency and international partners,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said. “He has demonstrated daily to our airmen that the best route to mission success is through teamwork across the total force – active duty, Guard, reserve and civilian airman working together.”
The new chief of staff has big shoes to fill, Donley said. “Mark is highly respected throughout the Air Force for his exceptional leadership and his ability to connect with airmen, qualities that will continue to prove extremely valuable in his new role. Without a doubt, Mark is an officer with a broad range of military experience and professional acumen grounded with the core values and the character that make him ready to lead this world-class institution.”
Schwartz was not expecting to become Air Force chief of staff. He was serving as the commander of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., when then-President Bush asked him to accept the job. His mission was to tighten contracting, ensure no mistakes in the handling of nuclear weapons and provide trained and equipped forces to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During today’s ceremony, Schwartz listed what the Air Force accomplished in his four years at the helm. “We conducted effective combat operations in multiple theatres. We revitalized the nuclear enterprise, including the establishment of the Air Force Global Strike Command, exclusively to oversee our intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal and nuclear-capable bomber fleet.”
The service developed the contract for the nation’s next-generation air refueling tanker program and institutionalized remotely piloted aircraft.
“We can be proud of the progress that we have made, not only from a materiel perspective but also in caring for airmen and their families,” he said. “This includes the comprehensive airman fitness efforts and morale, welfare and recreation programs that are relevant to a broader range of airman and family needs.”
The service has also made progress in family support area. “We can be optimistic even as we look to improve further our exceptional family member program, enhance services at child development centers and spouse employment programs, among others,” he said.
The new chief of staff also stressed the importance of joint operations and joint cooperation. “For our airmen, I believe that joint operations are the only way we will succeed on the battlefield. If you plan to criticize one of our sister services, don’t let me hear you.”
And joint operations must blend with coalition operations. “I believe our Air Force is an absolutely essential contributor to the joint team, just like each of our sister services are,” he said. “No one else can bring what we bring to the fight, and every real war fighter knows that. Don’t ever doubt yourself or this service.”
The Air Force has a large part of protecting America in the future. “Without a well-trained, well-equipped, capable and credible Air Force, our nation will simply not be able to project or protect its power and interests in the future,” he said. “Our job is to make sure we can.”
The Air Force is a model of total force integration, Welsh said, and cited how active duty and reserve components operate together around the world.
“I believe every member of our Air Force family is critically important to our success, and each of them deserves to be treated that way. When it comes to airman resiliency, the suicide prevention, the sexual assault prevention and response, I believe you’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. There is no middle ground.”
Welsh spoke about his priorities, saying the most important thing airmen must concentrate on is winning. “Number one, win the fight, today’s fight, the one that starts next week, the one that starts next month or the one that starts next year,” he said. “Readiness and training are not optional.”
All airmen must work together to strengthen the team. “That’s the Air Force team, the airman family team, the joint team, the coalition team, the interagency team,” he said.
Finally, airmen must be ready for the future and not lose sight of the mission. “That will require innovative thinking and different approaches to problems, and it will require modernization. I believe success is all about people and pride in performance. And I will insist we walk the talk when it comes to taking care of the people we’re privileged to lead. But we can never afford to forget that the only bottom line in this business is performance. No one will care how well we treated our people if we lose the next war.”
Trust is a key component, and Welsh wants airmen to know he trusts them. “I know how talented you are. I know how well you serve and how proud you are of what you do and … what you represent,” he said. “And you need to know that no one, no one ever has been prouder to serve as your chief of staff. It’s about time I got to work.”