Airman Killed in Afghanistan
SSgt. Timothy P. Davis, 28, died Feb. 20 near Bagram, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device.
Davis, of Aberdeen, Wash., had deployed to Afghanistan from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Wyatt Takes Over Air Guard
Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III was promoted during a ceremony Feb. 2 in the Pentagon and formally took the leadership reins of the Air National Guard.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz and USAF Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, pinned on the third star. “I’m humbled to be here and ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” said Wyatt, who previously served as the adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Then-President George W. Bush nominated Wyatt for the post last November to replace McKinley, who took over the NGB that same month. The Senate confirmed Wyatt in December.
USAF, Army Chiefs Meet
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz met with his Army counterpart, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Feb. 10 in the Pentagon for a day of meetings to discuss areas of mutual interest such as the command and control of unmanned aerial vehicles and integrating and deconflicting air and ground munitions and platforms.
Schwartz said he was “particularly pleased” with the outcomes of the discussion at the Army-hosted event on how the Air Force can better provide liaison personnel to work with Army brigade combat teams and other formations. The Air Force will continue to adapt to build trust and interoperability with the land service, he said.
Casey reiterated the successes of the two services working together today and said efforts will continue to make them “an even more effective team across the spectrum of conflict.”
B-52H Drawdown Completed
The Air Force in late January completed the drawdown of the B-52H fleet to 76 aircraft by completing the movement of 17 airframes from Louisiana, North Dakota, and Texas to Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., for placement in recallable storage with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group.
This phaseout began in July 2008. Of the 17 aircraft, nine came from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., six from the 2nd BW at Barksdale AFB, La., and two from Sheppard AFB, Tex., according to Air Combat Command.
Early last year, the service had intended to retire 18 B-52s from the then 94-aircraft fleet, but with the subsequent crash of a B-52 in July 2008 off the coast of Guam, one of the airframes originally identified for retirement has been kept in service.
Global Outreach Advances
Bruce S. Lemkin, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, announced Feb. 5 that USAF’s leadership had approved the Air Force Global Partnership Strategy and the International Space Engagement Strategy, the two approaches that will drive the service’s outreach efforts with allies and friendly nations’ militaries.
The AFGPS, unveiled in May 2008, will provide the guidance for how the service organizes, trains, and equips itself so that it is able to establish mutually beneficial partnerships and interoperable capabilities, and increase the capacity of partner nations to provide for their own security.
The space strategy supports AFGPS by prioritizing the Air Force’s efforts and focusing limited resources for space cooperation and partnerships, said Lemkin.
Air Force Ups C-17 Order
The Air Force awarded Boeing a $2.95 billion contract Feb. 6 for 15 C-17 Globemaster III airlifters, bringing USAF’s total order to 205 aircraft. As of late February, the company had delivered 183 of them.
Boeing’s C-17 spokesman Jerry Drelling said the new order will keep C-17s coming off the company’s production line in Long Beach, Calif., until at least August 2010. While senior Air Force officials have stated that they do not intend to seek additional C-17s beyond 205, support for the aircraft remains strong in Congress, and Boeing is spending its own money to preserve the option for the Air Force to buy 15 more, Jean Chamberlin, Boeing’s vice president for mobility programs, said Feb. 17.
Boeing is also currently building C-17s for NATO and Qatar, and says nations including India, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates have expressed an interest in the aircraft.
Malmstrom Fuel Plant Nixed
The Air Force on Jan. 29 called off its quest to establish a coal-to-liquid fuel conversion plant at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., saying an examination of proposals showed that they “are not viable.” It also cited “possible conflicts” with the mission of the base’s 341st Missile Wing, which operates Minuteman III ICBMs.
Having a CTL plant at Malmstrom—to be built and run by a private developer—was a part of USAF’s broader strategy to wean the service off foreign sources of energy by utilizing a synthetic blend of aviation fuel that can be derived in part from coal, of which the US has a great abundance.
The concept may not be totally dead since the state of Alaska is looking at Eielson Air Force Base as the potential home for a CTL plant. But that option is being driven by Alaska and “has not been brought to the Air Force for consideration,” said USAF spokesman Gary Strasburg.
Eglin F-35 Plan Affirmed
The Air Force will base an initial batch of 59 F-35s at Eglin AFB, Fla., and begin construction to establish the Joint Strike Fighter Initial Joint Training Site there, per BRAC 2005 guidance, according to a record of decision signed Feb. 5.
This decision allows the Air Force to move the joint-international schoolhouse forward, albeit partly. Due to concerns voiced last year by some residents of Valparaiso, Fla., over the F-35’s noise levels, USAF has deferred a determination on whether to beddown additional aircraft—reaching a total of 107—until it completes a supplemental environmental impact statement by September 2010.
The first F-35 is scheduled to touch down at Eglin in March 2010, and aircraft will continue arriving through 2014. The ROD also imposes temporary operational restrictions on the aircraft to avoid and mitigate noise.
Stenner: Reserve Is “Strategic”
Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., chief of the Air Force Reserve, said Feb. 2 that while the military’s reserve components are a critical part of the operational force, they must preserve their traditional role as a strategic reserve force.
“It is what we are about,” he said during a speech at the Reserve Officers Association midwinter conference in Washington, D.C. “We have been and continue to be required as a strategic reserve, period.”
Stenner said abandoning that role to become just an operational force would mean a loss in the “depth that we as a nation need to ensure that we cover all types of contingencies,” whether they are homeland defense missions or major combat operations around the world. “You won’t do that without strategic depth,” he said.
Dover Gets First C-5M Lifter
Dover AFB, Del., took delivery of the first of its C-5M Super Galaxy transports Feb. 9 with the arrival of Spirit of Global Reach from Lockheed Martin’s facility in Marietta, Ga. Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, head of Air Mobility Command, flew the aircraft to Dover.
This is the first of three C-5Ms that Dover will receive for operational testing, which is scheduled to commence in August. The C-5M model features new avionics, engines, and reliability improvements for better performance and maintainability.
Lockheed Martin is upgrading a total of 52 of the Air Force’s 111 C-5s to the M-model configuration by 2016. The Dover aircraft was one of the first three C-5s to be upgraded for use in developmental testing, which concluded in August 2008.
Good Conduct Medal Is Back
USAF reactivated the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, as of Feb. 11, and will award it retroactively to airmen who qualify, going back to the decoration’s suspension in 2006. The reinstituted medal will be presented to all airmen who accumulate three years of good conduct.
“We’re going to make it so that there was never a gap,” Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel on the Air Staff, told reporters in the Pentagon that day.
CMSAF Rodney J. McKinley, a key player in medal’s reinstatement, said the 2005 decision to cancel it came from the belief that all airmen are expected to exhibit good behavior at all times, making the award a bit redundant. But the move had “unintended consequences,” he said, as it raised the ire of many retirees and was perceived as a slight to the enlisted corps.
ANG Units Pass Nuke Test
The 121st Air Refueling Wing and 155th ARW of the Ohio and Nebraska Air National Guards, respectively, received passing marks on their nuclear operational readiness inspections concluded in February by an Air Mobility Command inspector general team.
In addition to their daily aerial refueling tasks, the two Air Guard KC-135 wings are among the mobility units charged under AMC’s Prime Nuclear Airlift Force mission with transporting nuclear weapons.
The active duty 62nd Air Mobility Wing at McChord AFB, Wash., passed a nuclear surety inspection in January. And, after coming up short in its NSI last fall, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., successfully passed a five-day retest held in early February.
Murtha Pushes KC-X Dual Buy
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said Feb. 16 he remains convinced that the dual-buy strategy of allocating work both to Boeing and Northrop Grumman is the only means to push ahead with the Air Force’s protest-plagued KC-X tanker program.
Murtha said a dual buy, admittedly more expensive up front, would provide the tankers more quickly and, in essence, provide “a stimulus package in itself” for the troubled US economy, reported the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He made the comments during a visit to Boeing’s aircraft production facility near Seattle, echoing what he said in late January during a tour of the proposed Northrop Grumman-EADS tanker production site in Mobile, Ala.
While Murtha champions a dual buy, Pentagon officials remain adamantly against it and instead continue to support a winner-take-all scenario.
Stabilizer Trim Felled B-52
An improper stabilizer trim setting caused the crash of a B-52H Stratofortress bomber near Guam last July, killing all six airmen aboard, an Air Force accident investigation board reported Feb. 13.
Brig. Gen. Mark A. Barrett, commander of the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, Va., and president of the AIB, told reporters the trim was set between four to five degrees nose down when the bomber crashed. He judged that it was most likely a mechanical malfunction, but couldn’t absolutely rule out pilot error.
That the aircraft was at low altitude and in a descending turn when the problem manifested, coupled with the crew’s “late recognition” of what was happening, were contributing factors, he said. The wreckage, in 12,000 feet of water, couldn’t be fully salvaged, but analysis of some recovered stabilizer parts confirmed what the AIB deduced from computer modeling and simulations.
Air Sovereignty Alert at Risk
Eleven of the 18 sites across the nation at which the Air Force maintains fighter aircraft on 24-hour alert to protect US airspace “could be without viable aircraft by 2020,” if their legacy F-15s and F-16s are not replaced within the next few years, the Government Accountability Office warned in a Jan. 27 report.
Also disconcerting was GAO’s assessment that the Air National Guard and active duty units at 14 of these sites will have to suspend air sovereignty alert operations for some time between 2010 and 2020, as their legacy aircraft reach the end of their service life or as they transition to new fighters.
While it may not solve the issue, GAO said formally elevating ASA to a steady-state mission may help to alleviate some of the personnel and equipment issues facing the units that are consistently executing the mission today in addition to their expeditionary rotations.
Griffiss Cleanup Progresses
After more than two decades and $138 million spent, the Air Force said Feb. 9 it has successfully cleaned up many of the potentially hazardous waste sites at the former Griffiss AFB, N.Y., a former Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber base near Rome.
It said this is prompting the EPA to consider the removal of more than 2,900 of 3,552 acres of land that was formerly a part of Griffiss from the agency’s national priorities list for remediation. The base has been on the NPL since 1987.
“This moment marks a high point for the base, the community, and the Air Force,” said Robert Moore, director of the Air Force Real Property Agency. Griffiss closed in 1995 after BRAC 1993.
Satellite Clones Eyed
The Air Force announced in January that it intends to potentially double its planned fleet of six Wideband Global Satcom satellites by pursuing the “production of up to six clone WGS satellites and associated ground equipment.”
The clones would have communications capabilities “that are equivalent” to the WGS spacecraft, the service said. Launch of the first clone satellite is required within five years of the initial authorization to procure long-lead material.
Already the first of the six Boeing-built WGS communications satellites in the current program of record is on orbit and operational. WGS-2 was expected to go into space in March.
Arizona Wins Luke Case
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge took the state of Arizona’s side over the county in a dispute over land use around Luke Air Force Base, reported the Arizona Republic Feb. 12.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who filed the lawsuit to protect Luke from potential residential encroachment generated by building permits issued by Maricopa County, said Feb. 10, “This is a victory for the state, but more importantly for the West Valley communities that depend on Luke and for the dedicated airmen training there.”
Arizona considers Luke a finalist in the running to operate as a training facility for the new F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter aircraft. Goddard said he will “continue to fight” to make Luke a home of the F-35 and “extend the base’s mission for another 40 to 50 years.”
USAF Reaches Out to Nigeria
An Air Force contingent traveled to Nigeria for 10 days in mid-January to meet with senior officials, including the Minister of Defense and Chief of Air Staff, for discussions on improving the safety and security features of the African nation’s air domain.
The trip was one of the numerous activities that 17th Air Force, the air component of US Africa Command, has under way to bolster the capacity of African partner nations to help promote stability on the vast continent.
Among the activities, the USAF group assessed the state of the Nigerian Air Force’s mostly grounded C-130 fleet for possible reconstitution and exchanged ideas on search and rescue with senior Nigerian civil authorities.
Airmen Receive Bronze Star Medals
MSgt. William Geiger Jr. of the 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Robins AFB, Ga., received a Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device for his actions as a convoy commander in Iraq, the Air Force announced in January. It was his second Bronze Star Medal during his three consecutive tours in Iraq.
Geiger was awarded the medal, with valor device, for a 14-hour mission during which his convoy came under attack seven times by Iraqi insurgents. All of the convoy vehicles successfully reached their destination.
Also earning Bronze Star Medals for their actions in Afghanistan were: Lt. Col. Bradley Fishel of the 311th Human Systems Wing at Brooks City-Base, Tex.; Lt. Col. David Poage of the 81st Training Wing at Keesler AFB, Miss.; Capt. Timothy Harrelson of the 35th Medical Operations Squadron at Misawa AB, Japan; and TSgt. Phoebus Lazaridis of the 8th Air Support Operations Squadron at Aviano AB, Italy.
Receiving Bronze Star Medals for activities in Iraq were MSgt. Anthony Blackmon of the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, S.D.; and SSgt. Brian Boisselle of Edwards AFB, Calif.
World War II Airman Gets DSC
On Feb. 2, Walter T. Holmes, a B-24 pilot with the 44th Bomb Group, received a Distinguished Service Cross during a ceremony at Barksdale AFB, La., for his participation in the bombing raids on the Ploesti oil refinery in Romania in August 1943. A review by the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records upgraded Holmes’ Silver Star to a DSC just two days prior to his 90th birthday.
Cobra Dane Returns to USAF
The Missile Defense Agency on Feb. 19 announced that it was transferring the Cobra Dane phased-array radar at Shemya, Alaska, to the Air Force.
MDA has used the upgraded Cobra Dane for ballistic missile defense operations since 2004, but the radar still retains its intelligence data collection and space tracking capabilities.
The Air Force now will maintain Cobra Dane, including the hardware that supports the missile defense mission, and operate the radar to provide intelligence, space surveillance, and missile defense.
Guard Lauds Global Partners
The National Guard’s State Partnership Program is a valuable tool for forging international military-to-military relationships that can help world governments prevent and better respond to global calamities, said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Speaking to international students Feb. 5 at the George C. Marshall European Center for European Security Studies, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, McKinley noted that “integrated efforts” between governments are vital. “You start by preventing the things that can go wrong, and you start preventing by meeting and sharing ideas with people,” he said.
McKinley cited an existing partnership between the California National Guard and Ukraine as an example of the value of such an exchange. Just last November, Ukrainian officials shared ideas on dealing with floods with their California hosts during an emergency response training exercise.
Extended Red Flag Tested
The US Air Force Air Warfare Center added an extra week to its Red Flag 09-3 air combat training exercise that started Feb. 23 at Nellis AFB, Nev., to test the feasibility and effectiveness of focusing some of the training on close air support and combat search and rescue scenarios.
“The additional training will better prepare our airmen for combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locations around the world,” said Maj. Keith Lowman, Red Flag 09-3 team chief. Red Flag has been traditionally two-week-long events.
Participating aircraft included Air Force F-22, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter and attack aircraft and Navy F-18 fighters, as well as British Tornados and Australian F-111s. They were supported by a variety of combat search and rescue, command and control, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance platforms, and aerial refuelers.
ANG Firefighting Upgraded
The new variant of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) has been approved for operational use on the C-130J transports of the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands ANG Station.
The wing, the first to be cleared to use MAFFS II, had two units at its disposal, giving California a big boost in overhead firefighting capability in time for the state’s coming wildfire season. California hasn’t had a MAFFS capability since 2006.
Compared to the previous version, MAFFS II is considered more effective and efficient. The system drops an orange-colored mixture of fire retardant and water to keep fires from spreading. Two other Air Guard airlift wings and one Air Force Reserve Command unit will also get the new system.
Harry J. Hillaker, 89, a long-time aeronautical engineer with General Dynamics who is considered to be the “father of the F-16,” died Feb. 8 at his home in Fort Worth, Tex. Hillaker led the GD design team that worked with a group of Pentagon insiders—including then-Maj. John R. Boyd—that later became known as the “Fighter Mafia.” They molded a collection of ideas, theories, and concepts into what became the F-16, one of the most successful fighter programs in history. The F-16 first flew in January 1974. Hillaker, born in Flint, Mich., retired from GD in 1985. He also worked on the B-36, B-58, and F-111 aircraft programs.
Retired Lt. Col. Robert G. Ferry, 85, who flew a record-setting nonstop solo helicopter flight from California to Florida in April 1966, died Jan. 15 of natural causes at his home in Lake San Marcos, Calif. He made the 2,213-mile flight in a Hughes YOH-6A light observation helicopter from Culver City, Calif., to Ormond Beach, Fla., in 15 hours and eight minutes. His record still stands. Ferry, born in Minneapolis, flew helicopter missions during the Korean War and then was a test pilot at Edwards AFB, Calif. He later worked for Hughes Aircraft as chief test pilot.
|CMSAF Rodney McKinley To Retire This June
After 30 years of service, CMSAF Rodney J. McKinley will retire this summer, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz announced at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in February. McKinley has made “monumental contributions” to the service and the welfare of the enlisted force, Schwartz added.
The key to the continued success of the Air Force is to recognize extraordinary efforts in simple acts, the service’s top enlisted airman told the symposium crowd.
McKinley recalled his years of service, of visiting squadrons across the service. “I love aircraft, I’m in aircraft maintenance, and I love my F-4s, I love my A-10s,” McKinley said. The Air Force’s success in executing its missions is “not about just aircraft. It’s about our airmen.” McKinley spoke with pride of the efforts to improve the ways the Air Force tracks wounded airmen who return home from battle, to expand child care initiatives and better living quarters, and initiatives to better educate the force. In the past two years alone, he noted, more than 18,000 airmen have graduated from the Community College of the Air Force.
McKinley said seemingly small outreach efforts can have a major impact on the enlisted corps. He recalled how a gate guard’s greeting one cold night at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska made the difference to a young airman who was leaving the base to attempt suicide. The simple person-to-person greeting of, “Please be careful as you go out on these dangerous roads tonight because we want you to come back home safely,” inspired the airman to turn her car around and seek out counseling.
“It’s the little things,” McKinley said. “Leadership and success are about relationships and how you treat people. … So please as you go out there, care about your airmen, make sure they know you care.”
McKinley’s formal retirement ceremony is planned for June 30.
—Marc V. Schanz
|DOD Stands Pat With Service Roles and Missions
The Department of Defense instituted no major changes to the responsibilities of each service based on the findings of its Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review Report, released Jan. 29.
In fact, DOD endorsed the services’ existing roles and missions in the report, known as the QRM for short, albeit with renewed commitments to seek better joint synergy and less duplication of effort.
For example, the review determined that the services are “appropriately aligned” for intratheater airlift. Letting both the Air Force and Army operate fleets of C-27J transports offers the most value to the joint force of all options considered, which ranged from having the Air Force operate all C-27Js to the Army having exclusive ownership, the report said.
Nonetheless, based on the lessons of recent operations, DOD is instituting some changes to ensure that Air Force C-27Js can conduct Army direct support missions when requested, and Army C-27Js can be fully integrated into a common-user airlift system when available, stated the report.
Similarly, the review found that “it is appropriate” for each service to develop, acquire, and operate unmanned aerial vehicles, but more needs to be done to increase interoperability of UAV capabilities.
The review also affirmed that cyberspace operations are a joint mission, with each service having a role, thereby quashing any notion that the Air Force might emerge as the lead player in this realm.
One major area cited for improvement is improving DOD’s “soft power” capabilities in support of national efforts to rebuild countries after conflict and establish or restore rule of law, the report said. There were also calls to do more to institutionalize irregular warfare across the department.
The roles and missions review is now required by law to take place every four years as a precursor to the Pentagon’s broader Quadrennial Defense Review.
|Barksdale Reservists To Lead B-52 Training
Air Force Reserve Command’s 93rd Bomb Squadron at Barksdale AFB, La., is assuming the lead for B-52H training, in a shift under way in the B-52 fleet. Currently a combat-coded unit, the 93rd BS is transitioning to the B-52 formal training unit (FTU), or schoolhouse, according to Col. Edmund D. Walker, commander of the AFRC’s 917th Wing, the bomb squadron’s parent unit.
Assigning the B-52 schoolhouse mission to the Reserve unit is “a good fit” because its members, like Reservist airmen across the Air Force, bring much experience and stability to their USAF jobs, said Walker.
“We’ve found that in the flying training unit business, [having a Reserve unit in charge] has worked out really well,” said Walker. Already the 917th Wing’s other flying unit, the 47th Fighter Squadron, operates one of the Air Force’s two A-10 schoolhouses.
Under the changes to the 93rd BS, its aircraft complement will grow from eight to 16 by around this summer, with the new assets transferring over from Barksdale’s active duty 2nd Bomb Wing, said Walker.
The 2nd BW’s 11th BS, the current B-52 FTU, will become an active associate to the 93rd BS. It will no longer operate its own aircraft. Instead, its aircrews will work in the schoolhouse under the operational direction of the 93rd BS.
On the maintenance side, airmen of the 2nd BW will work under the Reserve wing’s maintenance group to keep the training aircraft flying.
Walker said the transition to the FTU has been in the works for about two years and isn’t directly related to the creation of Air Force Global Strike Command, the new nuclear-centric major command, although both are occurring at around the same time.
Rounding out the moves, Walker said Reservist aircrews will form a Reserve associate with the 2nd BW. They will participate in the conventional and the nuclear-related activities of the active duty wing, including deployments.
|Satellites Collide in Space
An inactive Russian military satellite and functioning Iridium commercial communications satellite collided in low Earth orbit Feb. 10 about 498 miles over Siberia, with both being obliterated and strewing a large amount of debris in space.
The incident was the first time that two large intact satellites smashed into one another on orbit. As of late February, the Department of Defense was still formulating where the debris would settle, and if debris pieces posed a danger to other satellites. And NASA scientists were determining whether the debris might pose a danger to the planned space shuttle mission in May to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
The incident led to calls for more international cooperation to do more to prevent similar events.
“I’d like to be able to find a way, not only with Russia, but with other nations to make sure that our exchange of data is more complete,” said Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Feb. 12 at a Space Enterprise Council-sponsored event in Washington, D.C. “We would be remiss to not take advantage of this [event] and turn it into good.”
Cartwright said it would be a long time before the debris field re-enters the atmosphere since the collision occurred at a sufficiently high altitude. “My worry is that debris field is going to be up there for a lot of years, so we’re going to have to play a little bit of ‘dodgeball’ for many tens of years coming,” he said.
“The good news,” he continued, “is once it’s stabilized, it’s relatively predictable. The bad news is it’s a large area.” If certain orbital areas are no longer considered safe, both the commercial and national security communities would face financial costs and mission impacts, he said.
US officials acknowledged that there are limits on the United States’ ability to track every orbiting man-made object and compute potential collisions.
|CMSAF Paul W. Airey, 1923-2009
Retired CMSAF Paul W. Airey, first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and leader of the team that developed the Air Force enlisted promotion system still in use today, died March 11 in Panama City, Fla.
A World War II veteran and prisoner of war in the conflict, Airey helped define the role and duties of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and sharply enhanced the educational opportunities and professionalism of the USAF enlisted force.
A native of New Bedford, Mass., Airey left high school to enlist in the military in 1942. He meant to join the Navy, but was put off by that service, and enlisted in the Army Air Forces instead. He wound up drawing duty as a radioman and gunner on B-24 Liberators.
Airey first went to North Africa, and then Italy, racking up 28 combat missions. In July 1944, in a raid against oil refineries near Vienna, Austria, Airey’s B-24 was hit by flak. He parachuted safely but was captured, and spent the rest of the war as a POW. He was first interned at Stalag Luft IV, a POW camp near the Baltic Sea, but as the war drew to a close, Airey and 6,000 other POWs were force-marched 400 miles to a camp near Berlin. He was liberated by British troops in May 1945.
After a 90-day recuperation leave, Airey re-enlisted in the Air Force, a decision he had actually made while a POW. He served six years at Scott Field, Ill., as a radio instructor. As noncommissioned officer in charge of communications at Naha AB, Okinawa, Japan, Airey drew notice by solving a vexing problem—the corrosion of radio gear in the hot, humid climate. Although Airey himself said he merely found and applied an existing procedure, he was decorated for his initiative, which saved millions of dollars worth of equipment.
Returning from Okinawa in 1953, Airey served as first sergeant at Scott, and then at four other bases during the next 14 years.
In 1966, the Air Force acceded to Congressional urging to create a top enlisted position, to match similar posts in the Army and Navy. The person chosen would advise service leadership on the “morale, welfare, and career opportunities of the enlisted men and women,” according to a House bill. Airey was one of three finalists; he got the job in April 1967.
Although there was opposition to creating Airey’s new job, he told an interviewer that Chief of Staff Gen. John P. McConnell—rumored to be among the opponents—told him to “run with it,” and became a huge supporter of Airey’s efforts.
Airey fought efforts to turn the job into a kind of inspector general, focusing on communicating enlisted issues to the top of the USAF command chain. Airey also recognized that the way to turn around a long-standing retention problem was to fix the service’s enlisted promotion system. He and a team of specialists devised the Weighted Airman Promotion System, still used today.
Airey worked with the head of Air University to create a Senior NCO Academy, to provide more sophisticated leadership and management training than was then available at individual commands. Airey later said that the enlisted airman of today is better educated and holds more degrees than the officers did in World War II.
On a visit to Europe, Airey discovered that unscrupulous lenders were charging airmen exorbitant interest on loans. His highlighting of this problem led to the establishment of credit unions in Europe for all US personnel there.
Airey’s term as Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force ended in July 1969, but he served another year in order to complete 30 years of service. Subsequently, all his successors have retired directly from the job.
In retirement, Airey served as a regional director of the Air Force Sergeants Association, and as a chapter president of the Air Force Association. He received AFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. He also served on the board of trustees for both the Airmen Memorial Museum, the Air University Foundation, and the Air Force Memorial Foundation. A quote from Airey is among those engraved at the Air Force Memorial, saying that he sees in airmen “dedication, determination, loyalty, and valor.”
Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said Airey was a leader with “vision well ahead of his time. His legacy lives today in the truly professional enlisted force we have serving our nation, and for that, we owe him a debt of gratitude.”
—John A. Tirpak
|The War on Terrorism
Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq
By March 19, a total of 4,261 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The total includes 4,250 troops and 11 Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 3,425 were killed in action with the enemy while 836 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 31,131 troops wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This number includes 17,433 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 13,698 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Iraqis Fly First Night-Vision Mission
The aircrew of an Iraqi UH-1H Huey helicopter with the Iraqi Air Force’s 2nd Squadron on Feb. 8 flew the first all-Iraqi night-vision mission from Taji Air Base, representing another milestone for the fledgling air arm.
“This gives the Iraqi Air Force a night operation capability that was previously nonexistent,” said US Air Force Capt. Kevin Burns, a pilot advisor with the 721st Air Expeditionary Advisor Squadron that has been training the Iraqis.
The IqAF first acquired night-vision goggles in June 2008 and began night training on US OH-58 Kiowa helicopters on loan from the Iowa National Guard.
Rivet Joint Fleet Reaches Milestone
The Air Force’s fleet of RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft on Feb. 6 eclipsed 7,000 combat missions supporting US Central Command in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa.
“Seven thousand missions is a big deal for us,” said Lt. Col. Tom Nicholson, commander of the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, a Rivet Joint unit that operates from an air base in Southwest Asia.
Rivet Joints have flown continually in the CENTCOM area of responsibility since August 1990 under Desert Shield, the run-up to the first Gulf War. During this span, it is estimated that Rivet Joint aircraft have accumulated more than 50,000 combat hours there.
Nicholson said that the Rivet Joint’s mission has changed over the years from a strategic focus to a tactical information focus.
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By March 19, a total of 663 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 662 troops and one Department of Defense civilian. Of these deaths, 443 were killed in action with the enemy while 220 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 2,725 troops wounded in action during OEF. This number includes 960 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 1,765 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Airpower Strikes at Militants
A coalition air strike Feb. 15 targeted a group of nine militants near the village of Darya-ye-Morghab in Badghis Province near Turkmenistan, including Mullah Dastighir, the Taliban leader in the area.
After confirming the exact location of the militants, coalition forces attacked the enemy compound with a precision air strike, destroying a building and killing the militants inside, according to US Forces-Afghanistan.
Dastighir was responsible for an increase in violence in Badghis, including attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.
C-17 Makes Emergency Landing at Bagram
A C-17 Globemaster III transport landed Jan. 30 at Bagram AB, Afghanistan, with none of its landing gear fully extended, causing a small fire and disrupting the air field’s operations for several days, Air Forces Central officials said. There were no injuries to the aircrew.
It took a group of more than 120 airmen, Department of Defense civilians, and contractors two days to remove the crippled C-17 from the runway. They used a large crane and six giant airbags to lift the aircraft high enough so that its landing gear could be extended. The team then rolled the aircraft off the runway.
The Senate on Feb. 11 confirmed William J. Lynn III to be deputy secretary of defense by a vote of 93 to four. The former top Raytheon lobbyist replaced Gordon England in the Pentagon’s No. 2 post.