JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Taking care of people, balancing the readiness of today with the readiness of tomorrow, and making every dollar count are the three top priorities of Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.
"These three priorities underscore all the work I have ahead of me over the next three years," said James.
James shared her vision during a visit to Joint Base Charleston, May 7, 2014, where she and her spouse, Frank Beatty, received a firsthand look at the unique capabilities, key initiatives and attributes that make JB Charleston one of the nation's premier joint bases.
"Taking care of people is everything to me. In every job I've had over the last 30 years in the business of defense, I have become convinced that it always comes down to people. You need to make sure you have the right people in the right jobs and you take care of them appropriately and fairly."
With additional fiscal constraints on the horizon, James said fiscal responsibility is even more important than it has ever been.
"Money is precious and budgets are declining. As they say, flat is the new up. We're not going to see 'up' budgets in the foreseeable future. My crystal ball says at least the next 10-12 years we'll be lucky to be flat, and we may continue to go down some. So we need to make every dollar count."
James said with the decreasing budget and the decline in readiness, she and Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff, have proposed allocating more money to programs to keep Airmen and equipment ready, operational and fully trained.
"The readiness of today has slipped and has been slipping for the past 15-20 years overall. One of the key judgments we made in the budget, which is now before the Congress, is that we need to pump up that readiness funding, so we put quite a bit of money into readiness," said James. "To be able to restore flying hours for example, to increase the money we're putting into maintenance and spare parts and other types of investments to help the equipment of today remain ready and help restore other sorts of training that have taken a hit."
James is the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force and is responsible for the affairs of the Department of the Air Force, including organizing, training, equipping and providing for the welfare of its more than 690,000 active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen and their families.
The SecAF's day began with a brief about Joint Base Charleston and its various mission sets, including the C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlift mission. Afterwards, James and Beatty spent much of the day speaking with Airmen in their respective work centers as they toured the joint base, asking questions not just about their particular missions, but also focusing on quality of life issues affecting Airmen and their families. Some of the units visited were the 628th Medical Group, the Airman and Family Readiness Center and the Child Development Center. James also toured a C-17 Globemaster III, where she received briefings from pilots, loadmasters, "Port Dawgs," aeromedical units and 1st Combat Camera Squadron Airmen.
After a lunch with enlisted Airmen and Sailors at the base dining facility, James and Beatty visited the base dorms, where junior ranking enlisted members live when they first arrive in the Air Force.
James finished her tour with a base "all-call" at the Air Base theater where she discussed the budget, force shaping programs and quality of life issues.
"Thank you for what you do for the Air Force," James said. "As far as I'm concerned, Joint Base Charleston rocks. I spent my time today seeing the C-17's operational missions, and I also had the chance to explore some of the support functions here on base."
James opened the all-call by commending the Airmen for their accomplishments over the past year.
"I'm very impressed across the board here at Joint Base Charleston," said James. "You guys don't miss a beat. You certainly didn't miss a beat last year while facing many challenges. This is a hard-working crowd and not only are you working hard, you're delivering."
Since becoming the Secretary four months ago, James has divided her time between learning all the challenges impacting the Air Force and getting around to see the Airmen who make the mission happen.
"My favorite part of these last four months are days like today; getting out around our Air Force and meeting our Airmen directly and seeing them right on the front lines of their mission. In this brief time I've seen all five core missions in our Air Force in action."
After James had finished, Col. Jeffrey DeVore, 628th Air Base Wing commander, and Col. Darren Hartford, 437th Airlift Wing commander, thanked her for taking the time to visit JB Charleston and presented her with a core sampling from the newly paved runway, which is symbolic for Charleston because it ties the three wings and the local community together.