HomeSpeakersSpeech ArchiveThe 63rd Birthday of the United States Air Force

The 63rd Birthday of the United States Air Force

SAF/PA 2010 Air Force Public Affairs

Air Force Birthday, 2010

(Editor's note: Lyrics for the first verse of The Air Force Song are at the end of the speech.)

[Insert welcome to guests]

Happy Birthday, Air Force! Sixty-three years ago (on September 18, 1947), the United States Air Force set out on a mission of excellence as a separate military Service in the National Military Establishment under the Department of Defense following the signing of the National Security Act of 1947 by President Harry S. Truman (on July 26, 1947).1 

Since 1947, we have (The Air Force has) supported our Nation in wars, conflicts, operations, and humanitarian and relief missions, large and small; first through air, and as we evolved, through space and cyberspace operations. 

In our first year as a separate Service, and over a year's time beginning May 1948, we defied a Soviet blockade of Berlin by airlifting over 2 million tons of supplies on more than 277 thousand flights to the people in West Berlin. The Berlin airlift was arguably air power's single most decisive contribution to the Cold War, and it unquestionably achieved a profound strategic effect.2 

From '50 to '53, air power played a significant role in the Allied offensive in Korea when propellers gave way to jets,3 and even more so during the Vietnam era, from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s, through strategic bombing and advanced fighter aircraft - all while we staved off the Soviet Union during the Cold War that effectively ended in September 1991 when our strategic bombers stood down from their decades-long round-the-clock nuclear alert posture.4 

From the '70s to 1990 the Air Force was part of operations other than war and humanitarian and relief operations too numerous to mention here today--many of which hinged on our Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power capability.

Over the past two decades, our Air Force has been continuously deployed and engaged in overseas contingency and humanitarian operations. From Operation Desert Shield which kicked off the largest airlift in history over a short period of time in August 1990;5 to Desert Shield months later when we achieved air supremacy within the first 24 hours of the 43-day Persian Gulf War;6 to the most recent Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.7 And just this past year alone, our Airmen have provided humanitarian relief to floods in Pakistan, earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and have conducted aeromedical evacuations the world over.

As you know, the United States military marked a historic milestone September 1st as it made the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn signifying a formal end to U.S. military combat operations in Iraq.8 Operations are still ongoing in Afghanistan. 

We (I) could continue to talk about our illustrious history; victories in battle both air-to-air and air-to-ground but, those stories are best left to historians and Veteran Airmen. So, instead, I'd like to share with you some of what our Air Force of 63 years is doing now.

Today, your Air Force's distinctive capability to exercise Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power gives a critical edge to our Joint warfighting and coalition team. For example, our Airmen provide game-changing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance or ISR capabilities with both manned and remotely piloted aircraft, having flown over 35 thousand ISR sorties in 2009 and 2010. At this very moment, remotely piloted sorties are being flown by Airmen somewhere in the United States. Teamed with Airmen controlling constellations of satellites 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, data is streaming across the globe in milliseconds, via satellite, to steer aircraft over targets of interest, and transferring critical battlefield information for processing, exploitation and dissemination, for use by troops on the ground in Afghanistan and American troops who remain in Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, there.9 

As impressive as was the Berlin Airlift in our infancy, our Global Reach capability of today to build combat power anywhere in the world within hours and days is unmatched on the planet. 

Every 90 seconds an Air Force aircraft departs--24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Airmen offload 600 thousand gallons of fuel every day to U.S. Joint and coalition aircraft all over the world. Airmen have carried 1.8 million passengers and 600 thousand tons of cargo to Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11,10 and airdropped almost 9 thousand tons of supplies in Afghanistan in 2010 alone; while our aeromedical evacuation teams have evacuated 70 thousand patients from the Central Command Area of Responsibility since 2001,11 saving countless lives with our ability to transport our wounded and injured to hospitals in the United States in days, if not hours.

Across the full spectrum of conflict--from nuclear deterrence to irregular warfare, like that in Afghanistan, to all manner of military engagement in between, no one brings Global Power today with the speed, precision, and flexibility of our Air the air, space, or cyberspace.12 

Today, nearly 40 thousand Airmen are deployed to 263locations across the globe.13 That's in addition to the 58 thousand Airmen--and in many cases, their families--forward stationed overseas, strengthening regional stability and longstanding alliances in support of Combatant Commanders.14 And, on any given day, approximately 130 thousand Airmen support the Combatant Commanders from the home front.15 Our deployed-in-place Airmen are indispensable to the day-to-day defense of our Nation, whether they are tracking and dispatching bad actors at intercontinental range, maintaining constant vigilance from space, sustaining credible strategic deterrence, protecting networks, or patrolling the skies over the homeland."16 

This expeditionary paradigm, even for our Airmen deployed in place, is what we do; it's who we are. We are an expeditionary Air Force and deployments are part of our culture. It's a large part of our commitment to the Joint fight and the needs of our nation. But it takes people to make this mission happen - all 600 thousand-plus active duty, guard, reserve, and civilian Airmen.17 And, the Air Force understands that an Airman's deployment is really a family's deployment--I'll talk more on this, later.

Whether we're discussing air, space or cyber operations, our Airmen are engaged in today's conflicts. And, as an Air Force with global reach and power, our Airmen are also engaged in shaping the perspectives of others and preventing conflicts through deterrence.18 

Speaking of shaping perspectives--Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, identified five priorities about 22 months ago to focus, and in some cases, re-focus, our Air Force's efforts to meet today's challenges in the Joint fight, and provide our Service better balance and direction for the future.19 

A top priority for the Air Force in the past year has been to continue to strengthen the nuclear enterprise. In addition to the programs to sustain and modernize our existing ICBM and bomber fleets, we created Air Force Global Strike Command in 2009 and added more rigor to the nuclear inspection process over the past year to provide more focused oversight, and have made important progress in strengthening the culture of rigor and discipline appropriate to this tremendous responsibility.20 The Air Force has a long-term commitment to organize, train and equip a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear enterprise and we will not fail in this mission.21 

Partnering with the joint and coalition team to win today's fight has been a key focus of our leadership and will continue to be as we head into the future. For example, we increased combat air patrols to 45 this year delivering responsive ISR. We've flown 105 thousand close air support sorties since 2007, with historically fast response times. We deployed MC-12W Project Liberty ISR-capable aircraft, which are modified production Beechcraft King Airs, to the theater in a record nine months. Thousands of patients have been evacuated from Southwest Asia dramatically improving the survival and recovery rates of wounded personnel. 24th Air Force is coming online as the single commander for Air Force Network Operations to provide cyberspace support, defense, and force application. And, we're operating over 55 satellites providing continuous positioning, navigation and timing, communications, weather, ISR, and warning to U.S. and allied forces worldwide.22 

While our Air Force focuses on the conflicts of today, we are also modernizing our air and space inventories, organizations and training, and recapturing acquisition excellence. Today, we continue to organize, train, equip and posture our Air Force for success across the full spectrum of conflict by investing in enabling capabilities on which the entire Joint force depends at any level of conflict--capabilities like Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems, or C4; mobility and air refueling; and ISR, to name a few.23 For example, while we are currently reinforcing our counter-insurgency capabilities, we're also building the Joint Strike Fighter. While working on command and control for missile defense, we're pursuing the Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance and Light Air Support aircraft to more effectively train nascent air forces. While planning for the recapitalization of the tanker fleet, we're strengthening space situational awareness and cyber defense. And, while building up language and cultural competency, we continue to advance research on directed energy weapons and other future capabilities.24 

This balanced approach ensures our Air Force will have the capabilities we need to address potential threats across the spectrum of conflict; and will enable Joint and coalition forces to rapidly collect, communicate, and move information whether in support of humanitarian relief or strike operations. This approach supports truly global capabilities, and serves as a hedge against uncertainty--but our truest hedge and asset remains our Airmen.25 

Developing and caring for Airmen and their families is a top priority for our Air Force. So much so that Secretary Donley, General Schwartz and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Roy spearheaded the "Year of the Air Force Family," from July 2009 to July 2010, to address the hardships and needs of Airmen and Air Force families, and to determine how to make Air Force life more compatible with family life.

This Air Force-wide examination centered around four "Pillars of Emphasis:" Health and Wellness; Airman and Family Support; Education and Development; and Housing and Communities. Each pillar represents the most important issues and needs identified by our single Airmen, and our Airmen with families. Right now, and as a result of this effort, I can tell you there are many, many programs and initiatives under way to improve life for our Air Force families both institutionally and locally. I'd like to offer to you some of the major findings and highlights, and some of the Air Force's responses under each pillar.

Health and Wellness is the first pillar which included health care access and quality, and resiliency. In some areas across our Air Force, limited access to medical care and access to medical records needed improvement. A Family Health Initiative has already been implemented to address this need in 33 treatment facilities this year, with plans to improve access to the final 42 facilities by March of 2012. There are also initiatives underway to support families of deployed personnel with youth sports and child care at a reduced cost basis or free of charge. Improved fitness centers and better operating hours were also cited as a high priority to our Air Force families. The Air Force is spending over $140 million over the next couple of years to improve both facilities and equipment while fitness center operating hours will be addressed at the local command level. With increased life challenges for Airmen and their families, promoting and sustaining resiliency is a critical goal for our leaders. To address resiliency following deployments, we opened a Deployment Transition Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, this summer, for returning Airmen. The center provides deployment returnees an opportunity to decompress and reintegrate into home and work life with a resilience building, strength-based approach to assisting Airmen regularly exposed to significant risk of death in a combat zone. The Air Force has also earmarked over $2 million next fiscal year in programs like Marriage Care Retreats and enhanced social connections.26 

Examined under the second pillar, Airman and Family Support, is one of the greatest concerns of Airmen and their families--child care. The Air Force's focus here includes programs like the Extended Duty Program and home community-based child care programs that have already been expanded. Another area, the Exceptional Family Member Program, ensures Airmen and their family members receive timely, accurate information; streamlined assignment coordination; adequate care; and respite services within newly-established AF-wide standards. The Air Force also appointed a single point of contact for Exceptional Family Member Program issues and standardized the Key Spouse Program at each base. Key spouses consist of more than one thousand dedicated volunteers who support Airmen and their families during deployments, separations, and emergencies. And, considerable funding is programmed for the next two fiscal years to address three areas of focus for single Airmen to include communications and technology, social and recreational opportunities, and single Airman development.27 
Under the Education and Development pillar, the DoD Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts will resume next month (October 2010) to assist spouses with education and employment. And, the Air Force continues to support an Interstate (education) Compact, which 35 states have currently joined, to ease the transition for military kids between schools. In addition, the number of school Liaison Officers will triple in the next two years to advocate for our Air Force children transitioning between school districts.28 

The fourth pillar the Air Force focused on was Housing and Communities, which included a close look at family housing as well as dorms and dining facilities for our single Airmen. Through a successful public-private partnership, we will have built or renovated 23 thousand privatized homes by the end of this month (fiscal year 2010); and we have programmed over $250 million over the next two years toward dorm improvements. As for our single Airmen, we implemented the Food Transformation Initiative to improve dining facilities to address needs, lifestyles, and preferences of our Airmen.29 

From these examples you can see our senior leadership is focused on providing for the physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual well-being of our Airmen and their families; and they know that we must continue to understand our Airmen's needs, however changing they may be, because our Airmen are the means of mission accomplishment, and each initiative has real impact on the mission.30 

Although the Year of the Air Force Family officially came to a close in July, the work of strengthening the Air Force family and building a stronger Air Force community will continue to be a priority for our Secretary, Chief of Staff, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and Air Force leaders at all levels. They all understand that so long as the Air Force has missions to accomplish, missions that put duty ahead of personal comfort, and missions that put extraordinary strains on family life, every year must be a Year of the Air Force Family.31 

Ladies and gentlemen, on this 63rd anniversary of our United States Air Force, we cannot know what the future holds, so in order to realize our senior leaders' vision of a consistently powerful, capable Air Force, we will almost certainly need to pursue initiatives not yet fully imagined. We know Airmen will respond. After all, we are the stewards of a remarkable and vibrant history that began on the sands of Kitty Hawk and continues to be written in places like Afghanistan. Whether our contribution is in irregular warfare, humanitarian relief operations, engaging other air forces, aerial combat, strategic deterrence--or just getting the job done--we stand firm as a vital component of U.S. military power. America's Air Force entered the 21st century as the world's best air, space and cyber institution, and together we must expand on that legacy.32 

Thank you for letting me share our Air Force's 63rd birthday with you today. It's been my pleasure. Once again, I bid the Air Force a very Happy Birthday!

The Air Force Song33 

Off we go into the wild blue yonder, 
Climbing high into the sun; 
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder, 
At 'em boys, Give 'er the gun! (Give 'er the gun now!) 
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under, 
Off with one helluva roar! 
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey! 
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!

1AFPAM 36-2241, Professional Development Guide, 1 July 2009, page 39 (
2AFPAM 36-2241, pages 40-41 
3AFPAM 36-2241, pages 41-42
4AFPAM 36-2241, page 51
5GAO/NSIAD-93-40 Desert Shield/Storm Military Airlift, January 1993, page 2 (   
6AFPAM 36-2241, page 51
7AFPAM 36-2241, Chapter 2 (et al)
8United States Forces - Iraq Press Desk news - U.S. forces transition to Operation New Dawn (, 1 Sep 2010; American Forces Press Service news - Gates: War in Iraq over, U.S. transitioning to Iraqi forces (, 1 Sep 2010
9Speech: Building a Better Air Force, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Remarks at the annual American Legion National Convention, Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 1, 2010 (
10SecAF speech to American Legion, Sept. 1, 2010
11Air Force Key Talking Points, September 2010, Volume 5, Edition 9 (
12SecAF speech to American Legion, Sept. 1, 2010
13CSAF Vector, 'The Way Ahead,' July 4, 2010 (
14SecAF speech to American Legion Sept. 1, 2010
15Speech: Building a Stronger Air Force Community, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Remarks to Air Force Sergeants Association, Atlanta, Aug. 18, 2010 (
16CSAF Vector, 'The Way Ahead,' July 4, 2010
17SecAF speech to American Legion, Sept. 1, 2010
18SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
19CSAF Vector, 'The Way Ahead,' July 4, 2010
20SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
21CSAF Vector, 'The Way Ahead,' July 4, 2010
22CSAF Vector, 'The Way Ahead,' July 4, 2010
23SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
24SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
25SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
26SecAF speech to American Legion, Sept. 1, 2010 and SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
27SecAF speech to American Legion, Sept. 1, 2010 and SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
28SecAF speech to American Legion, Sept. 1, 2010 and SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
29SecAF speech to American Legion, Sept. 1, 2010 and SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
30SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
31SecAF speech to AFSA, Aug. 18, 2010
32CSAF Vector, 'The Way Ahead,' July 4, 2010
33The Air Force Song - Full Lyrics by Robert Crawford, reprinted with permission courtesy USAF Heritage of America Band (