U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III arrived at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado, Sept. 29, as part of a week-long stay.
Welsh wanted to take some time to thank Academy Airmen for the part they play here and in the Air Force. He addressed the legacy of the Academy, the changing future and the need for new priorities.
“I’m really only here for one reason – just to say thank you, more than anything else,” he said, while addressing the 10th Air Base Wing on implementing policies of common sense, communication and caring from the top down in the Air Force. “For what you do, for how well you do it, for helping these young (Airmen) grow up to be the future leaders. None of that happens without you guys. So thanks for what you do, on behalf of the Air Force and our nation.”
While Welsh said he sees the Academy changing for the better, but feels more change will be increasingly necessary as time goes on.
“I see the Air Force changing over the next 10-15 years,” he said. “The world’s changing around us, and the Academy’s going to have to change with the Air Force. The Academy doing its own thing makes it irrelevant over time. It’s like the Air Force doing its own thing versus being part of a joint team.”
Welsh said he believes the key to the Academy remaining relevant is to stay in step with the Air Force at large.
“The thing we’re most worried about is the rate of change,” he said. “Technological change, demographic change, ideological change, and you see it in the world every day in the headlines. To be successful as a military force, we have to be able to operate ahead of that rate of change, which means we can’t be slow and lethargic and hesitant to adjust ourselves. The kind of thinking that lets you be successful in that environment starts here. It starts in the classrooms of the Academy, in the leadership laboratory here, in the competitive environment of the athletic fields. And so the Air Force Academy is kind of the cornerstone of our ability to be successful down the road. It’s an inspiring place.”
Some of the changes that he said concern him are the fiscal challenges of the U.S.
“We have to be willing to be part of the nation’s solution to the debt problem, which means we’re going to have a lower top line to our budget for a while,” Welsh said. “We have to reprioritize in that top line the things we think are most important to doing the job right, and we have to figure out different ways of doing the job that are more efficient, without giving up the capability, the credibility and the success we’ve had in the past.”
Welsh said he believes that the Academy can have a direct effect on the financial future of the Air Force.
“It’s back to being willing to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves, and not hang on to the things that are nice to have or we want to have, but maintain those things and improve those things that are absolutely must haves to do the job for the nation,” he said. “That’s going to be the biggest problem, because it’s hard, but we need people to be able to make those tough decisions – that’s where the Academy comes in. We train them here.”
Welsh also discussed Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson’s past and future as the Academy superintendent, and her place in bringing about the changes.
“The thing I admire the most about General Johnson is the reason I nominated her to come here,” he said. “She has an open mind, she’s not afraid to look at new ways of solving old problems. She’s not bound by thinking — even her own thinking — about the way to do things in the past. She’s willing to open the aperture and think bigger thoughts and look at new approaches. She’s not scared to make the tough decisions, if she thinks it’s the most right for the institution, not just herself. She’s very morally courageous. She’s never lost that sense of personal integrity. And I believe Michelle lives the core values, which is why I think she’s a great superintendent.”
As Welsh’s trip coincides with Navy Week, which culminates in the football game between the Air Force Falcons and the Navy Midshipmen Oct. 4, he expressed his appreciation of the camaraderie present in the traditions and activities leading up to, and including, the game.
“The best part about Navy Week is just everyone kind of focusing on a common goal,” he said. “Everyone comes together and thinks about accomplishing this thing that we’re going to work at, whether we’re yelling in the stands or playing on the field. And that’s really, to me, what the Air Force is about. It’s about focusing on common goals. And sometimes we kind of get going in different directions for different reasons – whatever they might be – but for Navy Week and Army Week we tend to come together and we focus on this goal together. Which I think makes the place more powerful.”