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Celebrating the Air Force's 62nd Birthday

SAF/PA 2009 Air Force Public Affairs

Celebrating the Air Force's 62nd Birthday, 2009

(Editor's note: This speech as provided is approximately 16-18 minutes in duration)

[Insert welcome to guests]

Happy Birthday, Air Force! Today (On September 18th) we celebrate 62 years of tradition as a separate branch of the U.S. military. When President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 on September 18th (62 years ago today), establishing the Department of the Air Force, the Air Force embarked on the wing's of excellence, earning a place in the historical journals of airpower, space and cyberspace, as the greatest Air Force in the world.

As the youngest military service, the Air Force was bestowed a treasure of collective knowledge on how to defend our nation - knowledge that compounded to today's commanding role as a strategic and expeditionary air power second to none.

Our track record puts us at the forefront of all the world's air forces; even when enemy pilots flew superior aircraft to our own, over skies of Korea in the 1950s.

At that time, our pilots flew against the faster and more maneuverable Soviet-built MiG-15 fighters. But our Air Force pilots flying modern jets (at the time) such as the F-84 Thunderjet and F-86 Sabre jet owned the skies over Korea, dominating this enemy and quickly destroying just about every aircraft they threw at us. U.S. air supremacy was guaranteed because of superior American training and superior Air Force tactics.

That kind of moxie, the professionalism and determination of the Airman, has been a constant throughout our 62 years. But, our right of passage started long before this exhibition of valor.

In fact, it's been 100 years since Lieutenant Benjamin Foulois (FAH-loy) climbed into what became the Air Force's ... actually, the Signal Corps', first aircraft -- a Wright Flyer Type B biplane, on July 30th, 1909, for its final test flight in what was to be the U.S. military's first aircraft, named "Signal Corps Airplane Number 1". 

When America entered World War I in 1917, the air role was very small and not very decisive. But our role increased, and by war's end, there were 11,000 American pilots whose names included flying legends such as Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, the leading American ace, and 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, the second leading ace. Lieutenant Colonel Billy Mitchell emerged as one of the founding fathers of the Air Force. He was an intense proponent for air power. Through the victories of World War I, air power and the airplane was here to stay in our nation's military.

Through our roots in the Army Air Service formed in 1918, to the Army Air Corps in 1926, and later, the Army Air Forces in 1941, our Airmen braved the skies above Europe and the Pacific using airpower to fulfill the promise of freedom.

During World War II - air power was decisive, effective and pre-eminent. The rationale for an independent air arm was air superiority.

General H. H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, is credited with plotting the course for independence and internal reorganization of the Air Force. During his 41 years of service, he earned a unique place as the "Father of the modern Air Force."

General Arnold's legacy is today's strength. His vision of the future had, and still has much to do with the growth and direction of air power. Today's systems are newer, the threat is more sophisticated, the technology continues to improve, but his framework of principles and objectives still serve us well.

From the Berlin Airlift just over 60 years ago, to Operation Desert Storm just under 20 years ago, to our present day operations in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia, when the nation needed us, we were there. We fought through the Korean winters, sweltered in the jungles in and over Vietnam, and manned missile silos and alert facilities during the Cold War. From Panama to Serbia to Bosnia-Herzegovina--and now to African regions such as Darfur, the Air Force has been there.

For the last 62 years, America has had an able sentry called the U.S. Air Force to be her shield and sword in the air, in space and cyberspace, defending our nation against our enemies and adversaries.

As the world changed, so, too, did the Air Force.

In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act caused a major shakeup throughout the Department of Defense - it changed the way the military services and the DoD operated and levied difficult challenges to achieve interoperability and joint service operations. This act also set the foundation of today's Air Force and how we bring air, space, and cyber capabilities to bear in concert with the Joint and coalition team to win today's fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Operation Desert Storm was a hallmark for presenting the importance of Air Force innovation and technology in the Joint and coalition arena. General Chuck Horner, serving as the Combined Air Component Commander, brought airpower to bear on Saddam Hussein and the fourth largest Army in the world in a way never before seen. The difference from earlier conflicts was that there was now one "Air Boss" controlling the sky, and working in conjunction with the land, maritime, and special operations component commanders, air superiority was seized in mere days.

On the eve of the 19th century, George Washington cautioned our young nation that if the United Stated would "desire to secure peace, it must be known that we are, at all times, ready for war."

Ladies and gentlemen, today America's sons and daughters are at war, much the same way that we've been for almost the last two decades. Not only is your Air Force in the thick of it -- we're "ALL IN."

Since 1990, our Air Force has been continuously deployed and engaged overseas in great numbers. At this moment, nearly 40,000 Airmen are deployed in 135 countries around the world. And, given our continuing commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, we expect this trend to continue. 

The Air Force has adapted and reorganized to face the threats of today. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz is committed to providing the best trained, the best organized and the best equipped Air Force to meet today's threat. He reminds us that we are "ALL IN." We are "ALL IN" to support and work side-by-side with our Joint and coalition partners operating throughout the world. We are "ALL IN" supporting our sister services in Joint Expeditionary Taskings, from convoy operations to frontline security--performing missions our vigilant Airmen perhaps never thought they would be called upon to do. To some, this might come as a surprise that the United States Air Force does more than simply fly aircraft or work on an air base. But, being "ALL IN" truly reflects the nature of our Total Force Airmen today.

The nature of our first class Total Force is what's required to complete our missions these days. With our active duty, Guard, Reserve, civilians, and contractors all working together, we are all an important and intricate part of what makes the Air Force what it is today. 

Simply put, we are an expeditionary Air Force and deployments are part of our culture. But, let us not forget our families who care for the home front while their loved ones are deployed into harm's way for our nation.

Our Air Force leaders today remain cognizant that an Airman's deployment is as much their family's deployment. When our Airmen deploy, they are willing to make sacrifices and endure adversity, but they expect the Air Force to provide a stable environment for them and their families in return. 

The Air Force has long been recognized as the Service for exceptional commitment to families. Enhancing our service to families and fostering a greater sense of community increases our mission effectiveness -- both at home and while deployed. 

As we enter our 62nd year as an independent military service, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and General Schwartz are focused on our Air Force families. They have already designated this year, from July 2009 to July 2010, as the "Year of the Air Force Family." During this period we, as an Air Force, are addressing the hardships and needs ... what we might do to make Air Force life more compatible with family life ... and how we can build a greater sense of community across the Air Force. Supporting families and our single Airmen is not only the right thing to do for all our Airmen; it is the smart thing to do for our Air Force. 

When we talk about the mission and our Airmen, we also know we're doing more with less.

In 1979 we had about 556,000 people on active duty, 244,000 civilian employees and 151,000 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve forces.

Fast-forward 30 years to today and it is a different world we operate in.

Many Airmen who entered the Air Force in 1979 have been witness to the great changes and challenges the Air Force has experienced as missions, adversaries and priorities have changed since then.

With our Air Force, we must remember that we are a total force and rely on all our members to accomplish the mission. 

This year we have about 332,000 active duty, 142,000 civilians, and approximately 177,000 Guard and Reserve Airmen ... fewer people and more missions than 30 years ago. 

There are many fundamental areas the Air Force is focused on now and some of these beckon back to the Days of the Cold War.

It has been 20 years since our old adversary, the Soviet Union, disbanded. And, nearly 20 years ago the Strategic Air Command was inactivated. 

SAC was a magnificent organization with a legacy of pride, discipline, and attention to detail. It kept the peace. It helped win the Cold War. But, if you look back in time, some of the past remains, today.

Today, we continue to need nuclear forces to provide a deterrent to attack against the U.S., as well as to assure our allies of our commitment to their security. And today, we see an emphasis in this responsibility as we "Reinvigorate the Nuclear Enterprise" - one of the Air Force's top Priorities - by ensuring our Air Force has the proper focus on our critical missions that provide nuclear deterrence and global strike forces for the combatant commander, the Joint team and our allies. This year we stood up the Air Force Global Strike Command to centralize command and control of all Air Force nuclear operations and to provide clear lines of authority.

And, because of the tireless and dedicated work of our Airmen, we achieved other significant milestones this past year while making vital contributions toward the defense of our nation and winning today's fight. 

· · We surged new capabilities into the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, including increasing MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper production to achieve 36 Combat Air Patrols (CAPs). 
· · We deployed six new MC-12 ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platforms to Iraq through an acquisition program that hardly existed one year ago. 
· · We surged rotary-wing CSAR (combat search and rescue) assets to support joint medical evacuation and casualty evacuation missions in theater. 
· · We activated 24th Air Force under Air Force Space Command to handle information operations, defend global Air Force networks and deliver combat communications, information systems and weather services to joint warfighters. 
· · We stabilized our active-duty strength at about 332,000 to relieve chronically stressed career fields and source emerging missions, including ISR, nuclear operations, aircraft maintenance, cyber, Special Operations Forces and acquisition. 
· · We began implementing a comprehensive Acquisition Improvement Plan that focuses on revitalizing the size, experience, and skill of our acquisition workforce, taking a more disciplined approach to requirements definition, and executing stable, lower-risk budgeting to yield more reliable acquisition.

Throughout our history we have had to adjust our speed, our mettle, and our resolve to ensure the mission requirements that are required of us are something that we can meet.

Through stealth, competent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms; unsurpassed training measures; and a one-team, one-fight approach, we are more capable than ever to provide our critical capabilities as Airmen in the Joint fight.

As we moved into the 1990s we faced integration challenges for weapons systems and how we employed air-to-air, air-to-ground and dual-role fighters. Twenty years later, we focus on our state-of-the-art fifth generation fighter programs, while meeting Joint and coalition mission demands with in-the-dirt aircraft that can identify the bad guys on the ground - sometimes with an Airman remotely piloting an unmanned aircraft from half way around the world. 

So, what does the future hold for the Air Force?

Our plans are relatively clear in some areas. We will: 
· Complete F-22 Raptor production at the program of record but, continue with planned upgrades; focus on ramping up the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program; minimize 4th generation fighter aircraft investments to essential modifications only 
· Build more ISR platforms - MQ-9s, RQ-4s and similar unmanned aircraft system capabilities 
· Press forward with our plans for the C-5Ms and CV-22 
· In the satellite world, continue with Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, Wideband Global SATCOM systems, and Global Positioning System-III's 
· Further our plans in building partner capacity and Irregular Warfare capabilities 
· And, among the most important, succeed in the coming KC-X air refueling platform procurement

The Air Force mission now, as it was 62 years ago, is to fly, fight and win. Only now, we do it in air, space, and cyberspace. Remember, our adversaries have technology and know how to employ it, too. Therefore, we must continually Modernize our Air and Space inventories, organizations and training to remain the world's greatest Air Force.

We stand on the shoulders of generations of smart, innovative, and sometimes disruptive Airmen who have handed us a majestic legacy. As our Air Force continues to evolve, we must be bold and embrace change. It is one of our great strengths. Our Air Force is born of innovation, and our Airmen are innately adaptable. We have been challenged many times in our history; and the future yields opportunities that we will take on together. 

So, in celebrating our birthday we are invoking our heritage ... our commitment and our future promise ... by celebrating our Air Force today as a vital part of America's military and history ... it is Hap Arnold's legacy translated into 62 years of mission accomplishment in support of the Joint fight of today.

All of us are a part of that rich heritage and will continue to be well into the future. 

So, again, I bid the Air Force a very Happy Birthday.

Thank you for your time.