By Master Sgt. Stacia Zachary
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Little Rock Air Force Base on Dec. 15 to gather a greater understanding of the Air Mobility Command installation and its unique implementation of the Total Force Concept as well as interact with Airmen and update them on her top three priorities.
During her visit, James received a detailed Team Little Rock mission brief and visited key elements which combine to make Little Rock AFB the Home of Combat Airlift. This included a tour of the 314th Airlift Wing’s Center of Excellence and the Walters Community Center where she visited various Team Little Rock resource centers.
“The Air Mobility Command and, very particularly, what goes on here at Little Rock — the home of the C-130 Hercules — is crucial to everything we have going on today ... nothing happens without mobility,” James said.
James’ visit to Little Rock AFB aided in understanding how Team Little Rock both trains and employs C-130 tactical airlift that is used in humanitarian and wartime operations around the globe.
“All of you are critical contributors ... and I have been so impressed with everybody and everything that I have seen here at Little Rock — both from an operational perspective as well as from a training perspective,” James said. “I have been hearing stories on many of the key operations you have been involved in over Mount Sinjar (in northern Iraq). Because of your efforts with airdrops, you saved collectively thousands and thousands of the Yazidi people who were literally thirsting and starving to death on Mount Sinjar.”
In additional to the operational and training missions that exist here, the employment of the Total Force Concept is fully embraced in the mission sets located on the installation, particularly ian the base’s vital training mission.
“Everything about this place is Total Force — which is why I am so impressed,” James said. “Not only are you working as a Total Force, but also as an international force.”
Approaching her second year as the secretary of the Air Force, James continues to focus on her top three priorities: taking care of Airmen, balancing the readiness needs of today with the modernization needs of tomorrow and making every dollar count.
“When I first stepped into this role, I was shocked to learn today’s Air Force is the smallest it has been since its inception in 1947,” James said. “I think we have reduced enough...and in the future we will now be upsizing. We will grow in programs such as remotely piloted aircraft, cyber, maintenance across the board and nuclear enterprise — these are just some of the key areas we need to particularly upsize in the years to come.”
At the forefront of the Secretary’s priorities are people. Through her direction, the Air Force will increase its strength and capabilities through the inclusion of a wide-spectrum of people from different backgrounds into its ranks.
“I am a big believer in diversity. I would like to see us become a more diverse Air Force. And to me that means more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and diversity of background,” James said. “You see, when you bring different people together who come at problems from a different perspective...we get the greatest innovation.”
As the Air Force becomes more diverse in its people and missions, it is investing in the full integration of women into all Air Force specialties. While there are a lot of unknown factors to consider as previously restricted career fields are opened up, the challenges will be faced rationally and without diminishing the capabilities to perform these jobs.
“I will say, anytime we have opened any jobs to women, there has been a certain amount of naysaying. With time and with the performance that women put forth, these comments lessen and lessen. So I would predict that this is what will happen as we open the six previously closed positions in the future,” James said.
“I think the key thing here is in the future we will have gender-neutral, operationally relevant standards in place. These are tough jobs. They’re physically demanding jobs. You have to have a lot of mental acuity to do these jobs and they’re not for everybody. They’re not for all men and they’re not for all women. But in the future, we’re now going to allow men and women to compete for these jobs and once everybody — man or woman — proves himself or herself in that job, that is the way we will move forward.”
Although the Air Force now boasts a smaller footprint, the newer technologies and platforms coming online mean infrastructure requirements are decreasing.
“At the present time, we believe we have a rough magnitude of 30 percent in excess capacity in our Air Force,” James said. “That doesn’t mean 30 percent too many bases, it just means in the aggregate we have 30 percent too many office spaces; 30 percent too much runway space; 30 percent in the aggregate of excess capacity. Can you imagine any business that would continue paying money to the upkeep of something they no longer needed for their business?”
While the Air Force has some of the latest in technology, equipment and weapons systems, the people continue to be its greatest asset — both applauded at home and envied from afar.
“Without question, our super-secret weapon is our people. And as I travel the world and as I meet with my counterparts in foreign countries — yes, they are very interested in our technology ... and our equipment.” James said. “But most of all, they want to know about our people, how we recruit them, what we do to retain them...and our NCO corps is the absolute envy of the world. That’s our greatest weapon of all — our people.”
As Secretary James wrapped up her tour of Little Rock AFB, she had one final message for Team Little Rock.
“I want to take this opportunity to wish all of our Airmen here at Little Rock AFB the best of the holiday season and hope that they get some precious time to get some rest, regroup and spend it with family and friends,” James said. “They have been working very, very hard between operations, training and all the support that goes into it. We are very proud of them.”