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AF Chief of Staff: Call To the Future

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III delivers his 'Air Force Update' to attendees of the Air Force Association's annual Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition Feb. 12, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III delivers his 'Air Force Update' to attendees of the Air Force Association's annual Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition Feb. 12, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

ORLANDO, Fla.  -- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III shared his thoughts on where the Air Force is, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there with an audience of Airmen, industry representatives and Air Force supporters during his speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition Feb. 12, in Orlando, Florida.

“One of the great things about this job is I get to spend a lot of time talking to Airmen,” Welsh said. “There’ve been lots of distractions – it is an unending stream of things that have kind of grabbed our consciousness and, while we continue to fight the fight really well while we’re deployed and the folks who support it from home station focus all day long on fighting do fantastic work, as soon as you step away from that environment, or you ‘redeploy,’ the conversations turn to this stuff.”

Welsh said the questions he gets the most from Airmen revolve around things like sequestration, compensation packages and health care. His call to the Air Force is to refocus on the primary mission of the Air Force.

“We need to refocus on the things that really matter to us as members of this service and this profession,” he said. “I think we have to start with a refocus on our mission – and our primary job which is to fight and win the nation’s wars. All that other discussion will still happen – we’ll still include our Airmen in it – but that shouldn’t be the focus of every conversation we have.”

The operations both around the world and in the U.S. should remain the primary focus for the Airmen who perform and support those operations, Welsh explained. Having a distracted military can lead to serious problems if it continues over time.

“We’ve also been refocusing on our core values,” he said. “We’ve kind of been reminded that if these three simple words with elegant meaning, [integrity, service, excellence] if they’re really going to be foundational values for our service then they have to be cared for and sustained. They have to be embraced; they have to be discussed over and over and over.”

Welsh talked about the importance of not only being a professional, but being a member of the profession of arms – being an Airman first.

“This is a different business,” he said. “It’s an ugly business sometimes, and somebody’s got to be good at it – and the people who are, need leaders who care. Everything we teach in terms of those core values, leadership and supervision, has to be in context of the profession of arms.”

The Air Force is standing up the new Profession of Arms Center of Excellence at Air Education and Training Command. This center will ensure the concept and culture of the profession of arms is taught at every level of leadership and supervision.

Welsh tied culture to understanding and appreciating the vast area of responsibility (AOR) in which the Air Force operates, by showing the audience a picture of the Earth.

“Every centimeter of it is covered by air, and surrounded by space, where you operate,” he said. “I don’t even want to begin to figure out how to determine how much terrain is in the cyber environment that surrounds all of that. This is our AOR.”

Welsh talked about the decreasing size of the Air Force, and the evolution behind every major shift in priorities throughout the Air Force’s lifespan. Air power has consistently changed and adapted to the needs and challenges placed before it, and resets about every 25 years, learning lessons along the way.

“We made Operation Desert Storm look ridiculously easy,” Welsh said. “It wasn’t that easy, but we were that good – and that large. But any weapon, no matter how technically proficient – no matter how functionally advanced or functionally capable, can be too small to accomplish its desired purpose – and so can air forces.”

There are a few areas Welsh sees a specific need for a reset: infrastructure, space, cyber, total force integration and the Air Force’s self image.

“As the leading service proponent of innovation, we were born from it,” he said. “It should be in our DNA, and I think it is – we’re just kind of hesitant to brag about it. Let’s talk this up. Every Airman should be, can be, I believe must be innovative if we’re to succeed in the future.

Commanders can’t be intimidated by that; supervisors shouldn’t be scared of it. We ought to be embracing it.”

The Air Force has implemented new processes in decision making and developmental planning, and has given Airmen a roadmap for the future.

“Our vision [is] who we would like to be some day,” Welsh said. “It’s something that just keeps calling us forward. Global reach, global vigilance and global power – it’s what we do for America. A Call to the Future – the lead document in our strategic document series – this is who we are going to be 20 years from now. New Air Force Concept of Operations [is] how we’re going to operate once we get to that point. It gives us a target. It gives us a concept of how capabilities will fit together. The new Single Air Force Master Plan [is] the game plan to make the Call to the Future and Concept of Operations a reality.”

Throughout his speech, Welsh shared the amazing things Airmen are doing, and the stories of individuals who inspire him. He said finding balance is one of the best ways to refocus the force and to ensure the Air Force remains the best in the world into the future.

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