SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
The Air Force mission is no secret – fly, fight and win.
Doing so requires more than aircraft and munitions. It takes what many have said is the most critical and precious resource of all – the people required to implement and accomplish the mission.
Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, 2nd Air Force commander, paid a visit to Sheppard Air Force Base Oct. 30-Nov. 1 to see how the Air Force trains a variety of career fields that play a role in getting jets in the air or people in the right places as part of a joint force.
The general said he has seen a vast amount of the flying side of the Air Force having flown helicopters, C-130s and other airframes including the F-16. He said he has also experienced and witnessed what it takes behind the scenes to complete a successful mission.
“There is a critical shortage of people in our Air Force to do all that we need to do,” he said. “So, if you think there is a job that is not critical, you’re wrong. We would have reharvested that manpower and aligned it somewhere else. Everything we do is critical to producing air power.”
Leahy said that as 2nd AF commander, he wants to discover new ways to tap into the strength of the Air Force by asking Airmen how the service can be made better. He said he will certainly seek direction and insight from leadership, but he wants to empower Airmen so they know and realize that they are an integral part of the overall mission.
The general said the Air Force is working to increase its end strength to about 330,000, but it will take time. He said there are gaps in the number people needed, but, he said, the goal isn’t simply to fix the problem through growth. He said the answer lies with the Airmen and finding more effective, efficient and newer ways to do things done in the past, or tasks that will be handled in the future.
“It’s really to say how do we get more capacity and capability from our current force by unleashing the ingenuity of our Airmen as opposed to simply trying to throw more people at our problem,” he said.
When the general first began his tenure as 2nd AF commander, he sent a message to those in the Numbered Air Force, emphasizing the fact that commanders, officers and noncommissioned officers are in a position of leadership and his expectation is for them to lead.
He said the perception of Airmen in the field was that they were hampered from doing their job because of the amount of rules, regulations and policies. The momentum of the Air Force, beginning with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, is to encourage Airmen not to wait to be told to do something, but to move out with what they know is the right thing to do and do it smartly.
“Our Secretary has said we need to look at how many regulations we have; we need to look at the length and depth of those regulations; and we need to get it back to where we are giving our Airmen guidance and allowing them to innovate inside that guidance,” he said. “Back to what I want to see in five years, I want to see Airmen that actually understand that they’re being told by their senior leadership – from our Secretary and on down – you have not only the authority, you have the mandate to innovate, to think differently, to come up with a better way of doing things because that is what has made this Air Force great and that is what will continue making us the most lethal and capable air force in the world.”
This isn’t Leahy’s first foray as commander of a Numbered Air Force. The general also commanded the 23rd Air Force from August 2012 to June 2013. He said attributes he learned during that time included communicating without stifling through policy, and trusting that Airmen will do the right thing.
The general said we’re in the midst of an interesting time where the world order is attempting to change with global powers such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea jockeying for position on a global stage. The Air Force, he said, will be called upon to operate in all of those areas.
“So, we have to be equally capable operating in what’s referred to as the low end of conflict to the high end of conflict and in between,” he said. “The real mission that we are given as the United State military is to deter aggression, and we deter aggression by being the absolute best, most capable, most lethal air force in the world.
“And no one is willing to take on the United States Air Force because they know the outcome, and the outcome will be we will win.”