What just happened to our Air Force?

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Richard Devereaux
  • 82nd Training Wing commander
Much has been written about the recent decision of the Secretary of Defense to ask for the resignation of the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Although Secretary Gates made it clear his decision was driven by the Air Force's failure to responsibly carry out "its most sensitive mission"--the safeguarding of our nation's nuclear weapons, some of you may have speculated on other reasons. I've heard reasons ranging from disagreements over the number of F-22s the Air Force needs, to being overly focused on "next-war-itis," to a perceived need to break up the "fighter pilot mafia," to slowness in fielding UAVs, etc. Let me take this opportunity to give you my commentary on this story.

First, Secretary Gates had ample evidence and authority to relieve our Chief and Secretary based upon undeniable information that we have some real shortcomings in the programs, processes, and organizations responsible for our nuclear weapons. Our nuclear weapons culture in the Air Force had eroded to the point where we failed to critically self-assess our performance and shortcomings. The nation trusts us to take care of these weapons, with zero mistakes. Period. Our Air Force failed to do that and the ultimate responsibility for that state of affairs, according to Secretary Gates, lies with our most senior leaders.

Second, this event is a low spot for our Air Force. Never before in the history of our nation, has a Secretary of Defense (or "War," for you historians) ever simultaneously relieved both a Service Secretary and Chief. Never before has a Secretary of Defense ever lost total trust and confidence in a Service's ability to carry out "its most sensitive mission."

Third, our Secretary and Chief did the honorable thing by stepping down, just as any Airman would. These two men are respected and admired across our Air Force and nation. They could have gone on a crusade to paint this as a "political" issue. They didn't, of course, and instead accepted full responsibility. What integrity, what courage! Secretary Wynne and Gen Moseley have done many good things for our Air Force but perhaps their greatest legacy will be the way in which they responded to the Secretary of Defense's decision.

Fourth, political motives or agendas that some might attach to this decision are irrelevant to us as Airmen. Our priorities haven't changed. Our focus on winning today's fight, taking care of our people, and preparing for tomorrow's wars remain. This decision was not about politics, but about leadership--a failure of leadership to ensure we carried out the mission the nation asks us to do. Let others put their spin on this decision. As Airmen, we need to learn from the decision and move on. It is the responsibility of every NCO, officer, and civilian Airman, at every level of leadership, to rededicate him or herself to performing their job with the highest sense of purpose and attention to detail.

Fifth, we will get through this. Despite this setback, the United States Air Force remains the most capable, respected, and feared Air Force in history. Our fighters and bombers fly hundreds of close air support sorties each week in direct support of the Global War on Terror. Our transports and air refuelers take off every 90 seconds around the globe. Our UAVs provide an "unblinking eye" on targets in Afghanistan and Iraq, ensuring that no one can hide from the US Air Force. Constellations of our satellites fly overhead providing communications, surveillance, GPS positioning, etc. to every commander on the ground. Our Airmen are as bright and competent as ever. The Air Force remains "Above All" in stature and capabilities. We must work hard to restore the public's trust and confidence in our ability to carry out all of our missions.

So Team Sheppard Airmen, let's learn from this setback, let's hold our heads high, let's look forward and not backwards, and rededicate ourselves to our mission and our core values. That's exactly what our Secretary and Chief want us to do, and that's what our nation needs us to do.

I'm so proud of our culture of training excellence here at Sheppard, including the way in which we train those Airmen who maintain our Air Force's nuclear weapons. Let's ensure that culture of excellence gets exported to our entire Air Force through our graduating Airmen.