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Celebrating the Air Force's 61st Birthday

SAF/PA 2008 Air Force Public Affairs

Celebrating the Air Force's 61st Birthday, 2008

It is hard to believe it has been two years since we gathered as an Air Force to dedicate our beautiful and symbolic Air Force Memorial which overlooks Arlington Cemetery near Washington, DC. From the breathtaking heritage flight overhead to the brilliant fireworks at the first lighting of the spires, the Memorial dedication ceremony signaled the opening of a sacred place we can call our own and share with visitors from throughout the United States and around the world. The opening coincided with the 60th birthday of our service. Now, we've added another year to our storied history and today, we reflect on 61 years of airpower as a separate military service and look forward to the future.
It is safe to say that airpower did not always have widespread support in our nation's history. Only the repeated successful use of airpower could silence the skeptics. And silence we did. During World War I, the air truly became a separate battlefield, alongside the battlefields of land and sea. Aircraft of the time were first used simply for reconnaissance and mapping. When our leaders realized that these aircraft often crossed paths with enemy aircraft on the same types of missions, we mounted guns on them and thus the era of air combat began. By war's end, visionaries, such as then-Brig Gen William "Billy" Mitchell, commander of all American air combat units in France, went so far as to say: "The day has passed when armies on the ground or navies on the sea can be the arbiter of a nation's destiny in war...the main power of defense and the power of initiative against an enemy has passed to the air."
Airpower proved significant again during the years of WWII. The increased performance, range and payload of contemporary aircraft greatly expanded the applications of airpower. Equipped with the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator, both high-altitude four-engine bomber designs, the Mighty 8th Air Force delivered over half a million tons of bombs and destroyed an incredible 13,000 enemy planes. From 1942-1944, the addition of P-38 Lightening and P-51 Mustang escort fighters gave the bombers much needed protection and greatly improved the impact of the strategic bombing effort. Over time, our air superiority proved that nothing in Germany could be securely protected.
With the successes of airpower across two world wars, it is not hard to understand why the creation of a separate Air Force was included as a provision in the National Security Act of 1947. On Sept 18th of that year, with a stroke of President Harry Truman's signing pen, the United States Air Force came into being as an equal to the Army and Navy. The first Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, said shortly after taking office: "In this day a powerful counterattack is America's only real answer to aggression...there can be no question that we need the world's first Air Force. It is only through the global, flashing mobility of the Air Force that we can hold our counterattack poised...we feel with deep conviction, that the destiny of the United States rests on the continued development of our Air Force." Secretary Symington would most certainly be proud of the way our continual development has led to mission success again and again over the years.
Organizational and technological transformation since the Vietnam War has brought about a quantum leap in airpower's effectiveness--compellingly demonstrated in operations such as DESERT STORM, maintaining no-fly zones in Iraq through NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH, ALLIED FORCE in the Balkans, ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM, as well as in operations providing life-saving relief to victims of tsunamis, famines, earthquakes and hurricanes. Our air dominance has ensured that no U.S. ground forces have been attacked from the air since 1953...truly incredible.
But airplanes and technology don't tell the real story. Over the past six decades, it has been AIRMEN who have answered the call to serve around the world...Airmen from our Total Force...Active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian. In reality, airpower ceases to exist without the people behind the hardware...the people behind the strategy... the people behind the history. Airmen have flown and fought valiantly. They have served their fellow man in thousands of humanitarian missions. Airmen have been technological innovators, developing systems and doctrine which continually save more and more lives. They have routinely adapted to changing environments and global situations. Airmen are truly our most valuable "weapon" in fighting the Global War on Terror and preparing for future threats.
While words can sometimes tell the story, often numbers paint an even clearer picture of dedication and sacrifice. Listen to these numbers and I am sure you'll agree:
· Our Airmen currently fly an average of over 300 sorties daily as part of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM.
· We've flown over one million sorties since Sept 11, 2001
· Airmen are deployed to over 135 countries worldwide and have fulfilled an astounding 524,000 deployments since the Global War on Terror has began
· They currently operate 68 satellites and provide command and control infrastructure for over 140 satellites in total...providing 24/7 persistent global communications and GPS signals which has become vital to the success of our joint military operations
· And last, Airmen around the world ensure that an average of one air mobility aircraft takes off on a mission every 90 seconds...24 hours a day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.
I could go on and on painting the picture with numbers but I think you can see that Airmen are the force behind airpower...bringing it to life everyday.
As we enter our 61st year, we stand at a time of great assured, we're ready. To face today's enemies, as well as prepare for tomorrow's fights, your Air Force is focused now, more than ever, on high standards and core values...integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. We've studied our history, learned from it, and are putting our lessons learned into every mission. There is no way to know the challenges that lie ahead for our country and our world. But the Air Force has a rich tradition of rising to meet any challenge and our Airmen looking forward to the task.

** Stats were taken from AF Key Talking Points May 2008 and July 2008.