SECAF discusses current, future challenges with 501st CSW

ROYAL AIR FORCE ALCONBURY, United Kingdom — Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Royal Air Force Alconbury and RAF Molesworth, England, to learn more about the mission of the 501st Combat Support Wing and to discuss with Airmen the current state of the Air Force. 

During her visit, James was able to meet with 501st CSW Airmen and see firsthand how their innovation and dedication powers the nation’s only combat support wing. 

“I have full confidence that the Airmen of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (and) Air Forces Africa are well positioned to be forward, ready, now,” James said. 

The “Forward, Ready, Now” concept allows USAFE – AFAFRICA Airmen to effectively and efficiently provide capabilities and execute missions in support of combatant commanders and national objectives. 

“The readiness of today is absolutely crucial,” James said. “We need to be ready to execute our core competencies. Now, more than ever, we need the right training, equipment and people to accomplish whatever our nation asks of us.”

Forward-based, ready forces in the European theater have the flexibility to tailor themselves to rapidly deliver airpower to strategic locations all over the world. 

“I expect the operations tempo of the Air Force to remain high for what I consider to be the foreseeable future,” she said. “Of course we are winding down combat operations in Afghanistan as we enter a new phase, but it’s a very busy rest of the world.”

James said despite looming budget cuts, the Air Force is committed to remaining fully engaged during these dynamic times. 

“In this dangerous world it’s very important that our Air Force has top-notch readiness,” she said. “Given the focus on one type of mission over the last dozen years, our full spectrum of readiness today is not where I would like it to be. We are making a big push to get those readiness levels up across the Air Force.”

James said the way to improve readiness is to focus on properly funding the Air Force and making tough decisions concerning aircraft and manpower, with the focus of reinvesting the savings in readiness. 

While the Air Force does not want to reduce its total force any more than necessary, future cuts are to be expected, James said. She promised to keep commanders informed of significant changes and urged all Airmen to take the initiative and research their eligibility and options through the many resources available to them.

“We are trying as best we can to use voluntary incentives as the primary means to achieve reductions, and only go to involuntary reductions when we must,” she said. “We have tried throughout the entire process, to build in time — time to allow Airmen to consider their records; time to allow Airmen to seek out their mentors, supervisors and leaders to get advice; and time to talk it over with their families.”

James also said the Air Force has restructured its focus on developing quality Airmen during these uncertain times. The new feedback system, which rolled out July 1, provides Airmen a unique opportunity to reflect on their own knowledge and awareness of Air Force responsibilities, accountabilities and core values.

“This new evaluation system is really designed to make the performance review system much more meaningful for them, and to allow them to grow as Airmen,” James said. “It involves continuous and honest feedback. That is the whole purpose of the new system.”

James said the future of the Air Force is dependent upon supervisors at all levels mentoring and developing their people into quality Airmen focused on tackling today’s challenges through innovation and fiscally-conscious strategic planning. James said the relationship between supervisors and Airmen is at a critical juncture. 

“More than ever, supervisors must know their Airmen and use this system to align their individual goals and dreams with the needs of the force,” she said. “This will allow us to vector Airmen toward a successful and productive career in the Air Force.”