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Story by: Mr. Eric Durr - Division of Military and Naval Affairs
Dated: Thu, Jul 25, 2013
F.S. GABRESKI AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Westhampton Beach--The Air Force will make tough financial decisions as the defense budget shrinks, but there will continue to be an important role for the Air National Guard the Air Force’s top civilian leader told members of the 106th Rescue Wing on Thursday, July 25.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning spoke to 300 members of the 106th Rescue Wing, fielded questions from Airmen, and flew in an HH-60 Pavehawk rescue helicopter from the 101st Rescue Squadron while pararescue jumpers from the 103rd Rescue Squadron demonstrated an ocean rescue.Gabreski was one of three Air National Guard bases Fanning has visited in order to educate himself about the role the Air Guard plays in the Total Air Force.
The goal of the visit was to gain first-hand knowledge about Air Guard missions, hear what the Airmen are thinking about, and explain what is going on in Washington in regards to the budget cuts that have resulted from sequestration, said Maj. Toni Whaley, a spokeswoman for Fanning.
Fanning was originally confirmed as Undersecretary of the Air Force in April 2013 and became acting secretary in June. Fanning is responsible for the affairs of the Department of the Air Force, including the organizing, training, equipping and providing for the welfare of its more than 333,000 men and women on active duty, 178,000 members of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, 182,000 civilians, and their families. He oversees the Air Force’s annual budget of more than $110 billion.
In his meeting with the Air Guard members in the base’s main hanger, Fanning outlined the budget reduction issues facing the Air Force and urged Air Guard members to take sexual assault and sexual harassment issues very seriously.
Even if individual Airmen don’t think the service has a problem with sexual assault and harassment there is a perception that a problem exists which means the service must address it, Fanning said. He urged Airmen to report anything they think is wrong and to look out for each other.
The federal budget sequester which forced the Department of Defense to cut $85 billion in spending has forced the Air Force to make some hard budget decisions, Fanning said. This has included grounding aircraft not slated for immediate missions and deployments and a furlough--forcing employees to take an unpaid day off weekly for 11 weeks -- of Air National Guard dual-status technicians who are both Guard members and civilian employees. The end result will be a decline in readiness, Fanning said. The U.S. Air Force is still the best Air Force in the world, but readiness will suffer, he told the Guardsmen. Airmen may not be as well trained as they could be, he explained.
His hope is that there will be no furloughs in the 2014 fiscal year which starts in October, and Congress will act to allow the Air Force and other services to make smarter spending reductions. “Our goal for you is to try to get us back to some stability, some new normal, as soon as possible so we can keep faith with you and you can go back to doing the mission,” Fanning said.
In fielding questions from Airmen, Fanning said that he did not expect any effort to start reducing the number of stateside Air Force bases until 2017 at the earliest.
Fanning also said that Air Force leadership ia still trying to decide the future of the air rescue role that the 106th Rescue Wing executes. The future is being studied and the decision will be based on how the job can be done best, Fanning said. The Air Force will have to look at shrinking its force in the future, Fanning told the Guard members. The goal will be to allow people to leave the force voluntarily, but at some point there may be involuntary reductions in force.
But, Fanning emphasized, there will always be a place in the Air Force for people who do a good job and the Air Guard will continuew to play a critical role in the success of the Total Air Force.
“I have never seen Air Force four stars (generals) on active duty so seriously engaged in how we can leverage the Guard and Reserve,” Fanning said. “The Guard and Reserve proved themselves in the last 13 years.”
Among the key roles the Guard could fill is the emerging field of cyber-security operations, Fanning said. Leveraging the civilian computer skills of Guard members is a natural mission, he said.
Following his remarks, Fanning took off in an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter to watch pararescue jumpers plunge out of an HC-130 search and rescue aircraft and conduct a simulated water rescue of a downed pilot. The demonstration also included an air-to-air refueling mission in which the helicopters drew fuel from the HC-130.
The goal, said 106th Wing Commander Col. Tom Owens, was to demonstrate the unique capabilities of the 106th Airmen. Fanning’s remarks went a long way towards answering many of the questions the members of the 106th Rescue Wing have been asking themselves, said Tech Sgt. Keith Gross.
“A lot of important questions got answered,” said Gross, a Manorville resident. “It seems like a lot of the questions we have been speculating on were actually brought out and answered.”.
Senior Master Sgt. Denise O’Donnell, said she was really pleased that the Air Force’s top leader took the time to visit Gabreski. “He showed his personal side to the Air Force here,” O’Donnell said. “He’s concerned about everybody, not just the active Air Force, which is good for the Guard.”