COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Columbus Air Force Base Dec. 17-18, to meet with Airmen and learn their unique capabilities, key initiatives, attributes and missions.
During her visit, she met with Airmen of all ranks, toured some of the base's facilities, and flew on a training flight in a T-38C Talon. She also held an all call, where she spoke to base Airmen about her top priorities as the secretary of the Air Force.
James said that she met many dedicated, passionate and smart Airmen on Columbus AFB, which has an enduring and critical mission.
"I think our command here is doing a good job of taking care of our people; we are remaining ready for today and we are looking at modernizing some of the trainer aircraft for tomorrow," James said. "I've learned of some very good efficiency stories here at Columbus, which helps us make every dollar count. I'm very impressed by all that I've seen."
James said she predicted that 2015 will be another challenging year on the world scene and that the Air Force will continue to be on the front lines. She said that because of this, she will continue to focus on her top three priorities of taking care of people, increasing readiness, and making every dollar count.
Before her visit to Columbus AFB, James announced there will not be any involuntary force management programs in fiscal year 2015.
"(On my visit) I have come away with some definite impressions," James said. "For one, we are the best Air Force on the planet. Our Airmen are the smartest, they are dedicated, passionate in their service to America, but I'm also hearing the fact that we have become the smallest Air Force since our beginnings in 1947 has placed strains upon our Airmen. So as a result, earlier this week I announced that we are going to stop the downsizing and we will not be doing any more involuntary boards in fiscal 2015."
James said the Air Force's readiness has gone down over the past few years.
"The year of sequestration was a particularly bad year and we definitely need to get our readiness levels up across the Air Force," the secretary said. "That is precisely why we chose to invest additional billions of dollars into our readiness accounts like training, like infrastructure, going into the future."
James said the Air Force is high tech and part of becoming, and remaining, the best 21st century Air Force requires the best technology.
"We want to be one step ahead of the potential adversaries," James said. "We don't want to be equal, and we for sure will never let ourselves be behind."
James said current unexpected issues are examples of why the Air Force needs to raise its readiness levels.
"All you have to do is read your morning media and you can read about the fight against (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in the Middle East where our Air Force is very much in the lead and that demonstrates how we need to be ready," the secretary said. "Or you can read about humanitarian air drops in the Pacific, or about West Africa and Ebola. I could go on and on but all of this is unexpected. For all of this we must rise to the occasion and it talks to our training and our readiness."
James said the Air Force is doubling down on training because training and education are an important part of the development of Airmen.
At Columbus AFB and other undergraduate pilot training programs there are three principle aircraft used to train future pilots for the Air Force. James said one of the aircraft used in training, the T-38C, is getting older and the Air Force is concerned about the age of that aircraft. She predicted that over the next few years the Air Force would finalize the requirements to invest in a new generation of trainer, currently called the T-X.
The secretary concluded her tour by viewing the base from a few thousand feet above ground. With Maj. Jonathon Garner, a 49th Fighter Training Squadron standardization evaluations officer, as her pilot, James took off in a T-38C on a training mission for an aerial view of the base.
"I'm very impressed by all of the Airmen that I have met here at Columbus," James said. "(This is) a very important mission, the undergraduate pilot training mission. We are producing our Air Force pilots for the future, so it is an essential mission. We have a wonderful, supportive community in Columbus and the surrounding area. They are very good to our Airmen and we are very grateful for that."