By Scott Prater
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Schriever March 6 in an effort to familiarize herself with the Airmen and mission of the 50th and 310th Space Wings. She also took the opportunity to inform Airmen of future Air Force plans in the wake of recent budget constraints.
After touring the base, speaking to Airmen and learning about the missions conducted here, James introduced herself during an all-call.
Air Force Chief of Staff “Gen. [Mark A.] Welsh is fond of saying, ‘every Airman has a story,’” she said. “Well, I’m a new Airman, so I would like to tell you my story.”
Schriever Airmen learned that James grew up in New Jersey, earned degrees from Duke and Columbia Universities and began her government career in a different way than she had imagined.
“My goal was to be a diplomat and everything I had done prior to moving to Washington D.C., had been in preparation for that occurrence,” she said. “But, the state department didn’t pick me. I had an apartment and bills coming in and no job, so I had to start on a new path.”
Luckily for James, President Ronald Reagan began building up the Armed Forces in 1981 and the Department of Defense was hiring.
“So, I landed my first job in the Department of the Army,” she said. “And, I’ve been in defense, or in an occupation related to defense, for more than 30 years.”
As Secretary of the Air Force, James said she has three priorities for the service going forward: taking care of people, balancing our readiness of today with our readiness of tomorrow and making every dollar count.
She explained that taking care of people means not only recruiting and retaining the right people, but developing and compensating them. Balancing our readiness means figuring out how to fund our most critical programs today while at the same time focusing on the technologies that will define the Air Force of the future, such as modern fighters, tankers, bombers, and the satellites Airmen operate here at Schriever.
She said she had been on the job for 10 weeks with these priorities in mind when she walked in the door of a meeting room where the strategy of the Armed Forces and the budget for 2015 were being finalized. She said it turned out the strategy and the available budget appeared to be mismatched.
“In my personal observation, and I’ve been around defense for 30 years, the strategy and the budget never match,” she said. “Whenever that is the case, and this year is no different, we make judgment calls, we weigh different priorities and we make tradeoffs, and those tradeoffs always involve prudent risk.”
She also addressed the Air Force’s force reduction and said force cuts could be closer to 17,000 than the originally released 25,000, with the Guard and Reserve seeing reductions as well.
She encouraged Airmen to seek information and advice from their commanders and NCOs about the topic and challenged leaders to provide that advice even without such prompts.
“It is my hope that we won’t have to do this again,” she said. “We want to get through it and move on. For those of you leaving the Air Force, the next best thing is what’s waiting for you on the outside and how you seize that opportunity.”
She also covered topics, such as future compensation, basic housing allowance and other cost-saving measures.
“Again why is this happening?” she asked. “It’s happening because tough choices had to be made and funds have to be freed up and identified to plow back in to the readiness of today and of tomorrow.”
That said, James wrapped up her talk with a sense of gratitude.
“I’ve been impressed with everything I’ve found here and all that you do,” she said. “I want to thank you for all that you’re doing and also ask that with everything that’s going on in Washington, with budgets and so forth, that you please stay focused because you’re doing a magnificent job. You should take pride in the contributions you are making, not only to our military, but in some cases to the rest of the world.”
Col. Bill Liquori, 50th Space Wing commander, and Col. Jeffrey Mineo, 310th Space Wing commander, concluded the all-call by thanking James for sharing her thoughts on people, readiness and dollars.
“There is not a better group of people or a prouder group of professionals at what they do than at Schriever and in the 50th Space Wing,” Liquori said. “There is not a more ready group of people with the systems they are operating today, and rest assured, we’re taking valuable care of the precious dollars we have to execute our mission.”