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SecAF discusses force structure, 35 FW contributions during Misawa visit

by Airman 1st Class Kia Atkins
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

4/26/2012 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley met with Airmen and toured several 35th Fighter Wing units April 23 during a trip to Misawa Air Base.

During his visit, Donley held an Airman's Call where topics of discussion included the 35th FW's contributions to Misawa, the new Department of Defense strategic guidance, and Air Force force structure.

Speaking to audience members, the secretary applauded Misawa Air Base's response to a March 2011 earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami.

"After the disaster that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, the world saw Misawa's personnel and other U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region show their tremendous skills and professionalism, as well as personal compassion for those affected by this terrible event," he said.

Misawa Air Base's disaster relief and recovery efforts during Operation Tomodachi showcased the wing's ability to respond to natural disasters and helped strengthen bilateral relations, said Donley.

"You helped your neighbors on your own time, when you weren't performing military missions," he said. "'Misawa Helps' made an enormous impact on the lives of the Japanese people."

Donley went on to comment that Misawa's response to the disaster was all the more remarkable considering the wing's high operations tempo.

"You've only had one full month that both flying squadrons and their maintenance units have been on station together," he said.

The 13th and 14th Fighter Squadrons and their maintenance units have supported real-world situations in Korea, Operation New Dawn in Iraq and Operation Noble Eagle in Alaska. In addition, the 35th Fighter Wing participated in joint exercises that helped strengthen the U.S. presence in the Pacific, such as Commando Sling and Cope North.

Donley also discussed the DoD's new strategic guidance released in January, which reflects a continued U.S. focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

These are challenging times and we live in an extremely complex security environment, he explained. Operations in Afghanistan continue and the military is still fighting against Al Qaeda and its affiliates. There are also various other threats such as nuclear proliferation, failed states and cyber terrorism, to name just a few.

"We're also living in a state of great financial volatility," said Donley.

In mid-February, President Obama sent Congress the fiscal year 2013 budget proposal. For the Air Force, the secretary said this budget request represents a culmination of many hard choices to align the FY13 budget submission with the new DoD strategic guidance, and with the cuts required by the Budget Control Act over the next 10 years.

"Finding the proper balance between force structure, readiness and modernization has been our guiding principal in this effort," said Donley. "In short, we determined that the best course of action for our Air Force is to trade size for quality. We will become a smaller Air Force in order to protect a high quality and ready force."

Proposed force structure changes include the reduction of more than 250 aircraft over future years, as well as the reduction of about 9,900 Air Force military personnel across the total force, which includes active duty, Guard and Reserve.

The Air Force will also be terminating and restructuring some major programs to protect key priorities.

This will mean that the work force and installations will look and operate a little differently, Donley explained. For example, the Air Force headquarters and major commands will reduce overhead costs and redundant layering.

According to the secretary, the DoD's military personnel costs have doubled since 2001, while U.S. military end-strength has increased only eight percent. To combat rising personnel cost and the rising cost of medical care, the FY13 budget has proposed some increases in Tricare premiums for working-age retirees - premiums that have not changed since the 1990's.

Backed by DoD leaders, the President's budget also proposes a commission to examine the potential for future changes in the military retirement system, but any future changes would not affect those serving today, said Donley.

According to the secretary, evolving strategic environments and national budget constraints are factors that will continue to test the Air Force for years to come.

"Whatever the future may bring, we are sure that all members of our Total Force are up to the challenge," said Donley. "Our Air Force and our country need you to be great at what you do every single day. You deserve to be proud of your important work here at Misawa and we are certainly proud of you. It is an honor to serve with you in the world's finest Air Force."

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