By Tech. Sgt. Julie Weckerlein
Air Force Public Affairs Agency
WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley used his keynote speech at the 2012 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here Sept. 17 to discuss the importance of caring for Airmen.
“Whatever the intensity of our nation’s demands, in war or in peace, we have an abiding obligation to this institution that we know and love at the United States Air Force to develop and retain quality Airmen of character…who earn and deserve the trust placed in them by the American people,” Donley said.
The secretary addressed one of the force’s more troubling issues: suicide. According to the Department of Defense, there were 110 suicides across the military in 2010. In 2011, there were 122. By June 2012, there were already 140 across all the services. Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta called it one of the most complex and urgent problems facing the department.
“As you know, this problem is not unique to our service, and it is not unique to our military, but we must do all we can to strengthen Airmen’s resiliency, and look out for our wingmen in order to prevent these irreversible tragedies,” Donley said.
He also spoke at length about sexual assault in the military, specifically the allegations of professional and sexual misconduct by basic military training instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. The allegations range from violations of Air Force policy that prohibit unprofessional relationships to crimes of sexual assault.
He emphasized the Air Force’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault, noting that courts-martial have occurred and further investigations continue.
“I expect command-directed investigations to identify any systemic failures and to develop reform recommendations to help prevent such behavior,” Donley said. “We hold Airmen to high standards because that’s what is expected of us and what we expect from each other — to set the example, to treat people with dignity and respect, to act promptly to right a wrong, to protect people under our charge, and to live by the Air Force core values.”
He expressed confidence that the Air Force will confront the challenges of suicide and sexual assault, and come out stronger and better on the other side.
“Leaders at every level have an obligation to adhere to and enforce Air Force standards, and to establish and maintain a unit climate and culture that reflects what we stand for,” he said. “This is a family business. Nobody will do this for us.”
For more information on the Air Force’s efforts to stop suicide, visit http://www.af.mil/suicideprevention.asp.
For more information on sexual assault prevention and reporting, visit http://www.afpc.af.mil/library/sapr/index.asp.