KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- In a visit to Kirtland Air Force Base March 9-11, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Airmen, learned more about the installation's missions and shared her top three priorities.
James, who has been in her position for 15 months, said visiting bases and meeting with Airmen directly is one of the best parts of her job. In addition to visiting informally with Airmen, to hear from them first hand, she spent time at the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, the Kirtland Munitions and Maintenance Storage Complex, the Air Force Safety Center, the Air Force Inspection Agency, the 58th Special Operations Wing, the Air Force Research Laboratory and more.
"There is a lot going on at Kirtland," James said. "The missions that go on here, specifically some of the training missions, are crucial to our readiness."
James said her top priority is taking care of people. She said in her 34 years of defense-related jobs, the one thing she's learned is that great people always fuel great organizations.
"I've always put people first," she said. "You can have the best technology, the best ideas, the best everything and if you haven't got the best people -- if they are not trained, they are not motivated, they don't want to stick with you -- you're going nowhere."
She said the Air Force, in terms of numbers of people, is the smallest it has ever been, but she and other senior leaders are working to curb downsizing. She said there will be no more involuntary separations.
Readiness, specifically striking a balance between being ready today and modernizing for the future, is the second of James' top three priorities. She said the Air Force is not where it needs to be in terms of full spectrum readiness.
"Remaining ready in this tough budget environment is difficult," she said. "Readiness is an area of investment in our budget. We are pumping more money into training, flying hours, munitions and maintenance, and range infrastructure. We are upgrading our ranges so high-end training can be more effective."
Her third priority is making sure every dollar counts.
"We cannot waste a single dollar," James said. "Money is precious and we have to spend it wisely, and sometimes we have to make some hard decisions. But we must be good stewards and provide the best value for the taxpayers' dollars at the lowest possible cost."
She said with sequestration, senior leaders will have about $20 billion less than what they anticipated. Sequestration will not only damage our national security, but the nation's defense strategy will have to be rewritten, she said.
"We simply have to lift sequestration," she said. "Our services are needed more than ever, and having more money puts us in a better position to support our priorities."
James added that it's the job of Air Force senior leaders to provide to the country the most agile, credible and affordable total force possible, so they are ultimately capable of meeting the demands that are outlined by the defense strategic guidance.
"Although we are under strain, I'm absolutely certain we are doing that (meeting the defense strategic guidance) today and are going to continue to do that in the future," James said.