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Chief of staff addresses issues, surveys tornado damage

by Tech. Sgt. Juan Torres
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

5/5/2011 - LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. (AFNS) -- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz visited here May 4 through 5 to meet with Airmen and see the damage caused by recent tornadoes.

During the all call, General Schwartz discussed several issues, including recent force management actions by Air Force officials, the repeal of the law commonly known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and Airman resiliency.

"Sir, it is my absolute honor to welcome you back to Little Rock Air Force Base," said Col. Mike Minihan, the 19th Airlift Wing commander, referring to the general's tours here from 1974 to 1975, for C-130 Hercules initial qualification, and from 1977 to 1979, as a C-130E/H flight examiner at the 61st Tactical Airlift Squadron.

"Eighteen fifty-five -- I've probably got a few hours on that airplane, and it's great to be back," said General Schwartz, acknowledging the C-130E parked outside the hangar. "One of the great things about this wing is its blue-collar mission. No one designed the C-130 to be pretty."

General Schwartz said Airmen here should be proud of what they accomplished together to quickly recover and deploy Airmen following the tornado that hit the base April 25.

"You have 20 aircraft downrange and 1,000 people deployed, and you took care of the families who lost their homes," General Schwartz said. "That's something to be proud of."

General Schwartz said that he and his wife, Suzie, a native of Jacksonville, Ark., met an Airman earlier in the day who was deployed on a convoy security mission in Iraq when the tornado hit his home.

Staff Sgt. Eric Bramblett, a 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator, returned to Little Rock AFB 48 hours later to start picking up the pieces.

"He's grateful for the support he received from all of you," General Schwartz said, adding that despite the adversity he faces, Sergeant Bramblett is even more committed to his service "because he believes in his Air Force."

Later in the all call, General Schwartz discussed changes for the Air Force as the service implements the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

"We're not here to change anyone's beliefs, but we will continue to treat each other with dignity and respect," General Schwartz said.

General Schwartz also encouraged those in the audience to continue to build their personal resilience to stressors and changing demands. He urged attendees to reach out to chaplains, supervisors or medical professionals for assistance if feeling stressed or under duress.

"We don't want anyone at Little Rock (Air Force Base) to be affected by the phenomenon of suicide, because this is a family business," he said. "Make it your personal mission to make sure the Airman to your left and the Airman to your right is still here tomorrow."

The general also addressed concerns regarding force management, stating that Air Force officials are working hard to meet the congressionally authorized personnel ceiling. However, the current challenge is that retention is at an all-time high, he said.

"Some of that is due to the economy, but some of that is due, I hope, to the fact that we're doing really important work for the nation," he said. "In spite of these difficult end-strength measures, our focus will be to maintain the capability of an Air Force worthy of the United States."

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