JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md.-- Five years to the day from when he entered the position, the longest-serving secretary of the Air Force stepped down during a farewell ceremony here June 21. Donley was confirmed as the 22nd secretary of the Air Force Oct. 2, 2008. He served as the acting secretary since June 21 of that year, as well as for seven months in 1993, making him the longest-serving secretary in the Air Force's history. "America is stronger because Mike Donley chose to serve. You leave us now focused on the continued delivery of airpower for America," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said. "The Air Force remains ready to provide Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power for America because of your leadership and your clear, consistent commitment to our core values of integrity, service and excellence. We've all been privileged to know you, and honored to follow you."
In addition to Welsh, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter honored Donley at the ceremony, where hundreds gathered to say thanks and farewell. The defense secretary said Donley's leadership as the Air Force's top civilian rested on hard work, constant attention, and the trust and confidence of his subordinates. "If we had more of the Mike Donley attitude and sense of purpose in our country today, we'd probably all be a little better off," Hagel said. "I have been impressed (and) inspired. He has never shied away from taking the big issues on, straight up." During his tenure, Donley's accomplishments include reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise by, among other things, successfully standing up the first new Air Force major command in 17 years -- Air Force Global Strike Command. He helped to ensure modernization of the force remained a priority by overseeing the successful award of the KC-46A tanker, initiated work on the long range strike family of systems and continued F-35A Lightning II development and its transition to pilot training. He placed major emphasis on recapturing acquisition excellence with the establishment of the acquisition continuous process improvement plan and the successful implementation of the efficient space procurement strategy. He also was pivotal in standing up 24th Air Force to focus the service's cyber efforts, and he helped set the stage for total force integration, to find the right mix of capabilities that will maximize operational effectiveness across the active and Reserve components. Carter credited Donley with rebuilding the morale and reputation of the Air Force, "brick by brick," and described him as a man of great character. "He has reestablished the reputation and morale of our Air Force and has gone from there to build it higher and higher and higher," Carter said. "You are everything we want in a leader and a man of great integrity and humility." Welsh thanked Donley and his wife, Gail, for their constant focus on taking care of Airmen and their families. "Gail, your influence has been felt across our Air Force. Thank you for your genuine love of our Airmen and the 178,000 spouses" who benefited from that never-ending advocacy, Welsh said. He also thanked Hagel and Carter for joining the Air Force "as we celebrate a great American, a true patriot, and I believe a consummate Airman...my boss, my partner, and my friend." After a pass in review by the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and the U.S. Air Force Band, Donley reflected on his tenure and how much Airmen have impressed him over the years. "I am most grateful to have had this opportunity to meet, to know, and to represent America's Airmen...the living engine of our Air Force who have stepped forward, generation after generation, to sustain and advance American airpower," Donley said. "Our total force Airmen manage an incredibly diverse mission set and utilize the most technologically advanced systems, all of which come together to provide Global Vigilance, Reach and Power, for America." Donley took the opportunity while on stage, to offer one last appeal. "To members of Congress continuing to struggle with the nation's fiscal and defense priorities... on behalf of our Airmen, please repeal sequestration...," he said. "And always feel free to add a few more resources to the U.S. Air Force... consistent with the president's budget certainly." Before leaving the podium, Donley asked how the Air Force can be worthy of the "incredible" Airmen who volunteer to serve the nation. "My answer is simple," he said. "We must lead our Air Force and our military in a way that continues to sustain our most valuable assets: the trust of the American people, the confidence of our partners and allies, and the fear and respect of any potential adversary. Ladies and gentlemen, it has been an honor to serve with you in the world's finest Air Force." Under Secretary Eric Fanning will serve as the acting secretary of the Air Force until the president nominates and the Senate confirms a replacement. Fanning will also continue to serve as under secretary during this time.