Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Salute to Black History Month

February is nationally dedicated as a time to honor the many contributions made to our country by African Americans. It serves as an opportunity to commemorate many individuals’ legacy of leadership and salute the excellence displayed by those who have played a vital role in the history of our nation. Their patriotism, loyalty and leadership, coupled with their labor, determination and intellect, have socially enriched our national community. 

AFA is proud to recognize the great service and sacrifice of African American veterans throughout our country’s history, and we continue to appreciate the dedication of those serving our country. So, as Black History Month comes to an end, we’d like to share with you a very special and personal interview we conducted with Tuskegee Airman Charles E. McGee when he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame last year.

Q & A with Tuskegee Airmen Col. Charlie McGee:

Q: The Tuskegee airmen are a true legacy. Today you’re being inducted into the aviation hall of fame, what does this mean to you?

McGee: Well, this is indeed a … honor because there was no expectation that my experiences would qualify me to join such a distinguished group of folks in aviation. As a pilot, certainly, I’ve been a part of the aviation community but to reach this level of recognition is – I’m humbled, indeed.

Q: What was one of your most memorable moments in World War II participating with the legendary 332nd fighter group?

McGee: There’s probably several things that happened but the fact that we were able to come together and accomplish something that many believed wasn’t possible was certainly a part of what that experience has meant and what it has given us. But fortunately we came together, became an adhesive group that performed for a nation assigned to a level that was very meaningful to the future of our aviation community.

Q: I think also you were Americans first and foremost, and when I talk to the female pilots and whatnot I always ask them, do you consider yourselves a rebel? And they said no we just considered ourselves Americans and I think you know you didn’t consider yourselves as different.

McGee: No, that’s absolutely right …. We were all just interested in the opportunity that was being offered and interested as an American to be a participant in this World War, if you will, that we were involved in and became involved in.

Q: I can imagine most of you had a huge variety of backgrounds and I don’t know how much education people or their families had, but how did you get involved in flying?

McGee: Well, first of all I’ve always felt fortunate to grow up in a family that said “go to high school, go to college,” because they realize that the importance of education helps prepare you for whatever opportunities may come in the future.

So I was in my second year at the University of Illinois when I learned that part of the Army policy was that they needed black mechanics before they could have black pilots and it turns out that the mechanics entered training in 1941 at Chanute Field, Illinois, and that was just 14 miles away from the University. So the community was aware that something different was taking place.

I’m not sure how it really happened. I wasn’t dodging the draft but I was fully aware from ROTC training about infantry and handling the rifle, and – I think we used the term “ground pounders” back then – what that life may be like, and I guess maybe even through my ROTC instructor, who said “well, you ought to apply for the pilot cycle program”, and I did and passed the exams and I was accepted.

Q: Was ROTC segregated at the time, or no?

McGee: Not at the University of Illinois.

Q: What a blessing that you had a person at the ROTC level that encouraged you.

McGee: Yes, but all through my life I think I have been fortunate that my schooling experience had been both on the very segregated side and then later in many instances … fortunately on an integrated side. Where I was in a community where there weren’t enough blacks for separate schools, so I think that was to my advantage as far as the education that I was getting and preparing me for this future opportunity.

Q: Tell us about any particular missions that stick out in your memory. Or do I have to read the book?

McGee: Haha … well, you know folks have said to me you need to write your story, and I said I’m not a writer, so my daughter finally did. But, the training that we had was really excellent, although the army policy – it started out as an experiment because they didn’t think that we were capable. But they drew on folks with a college education and so I guess you can say we made the most of that opportunity to prove that it’s not the color of skin that determines talent, its being given the opportunity for whatever is out there.

Q: Where you the most educated of the group or were there other people that came that also had college degrees?

McGee: Well, initially the program anybody that was in it had college degrees and it’s kind of interesting that they, as I say the army started out as an experiment because they just didn’t believe that it was going to be successful…

Q: …that you could do it?

McGee: Yeah, that we could do it. You know, we can dig ditches, drive trucks, cook food, but do flying airplanes and maintaining airplanes? No way. In fact, the 1925 war college study that set up their policy actually felt that the black American was a sub-species of the human race attitude. So as I say we didn’t get together back at home and say let’s go down there and set the world on fire, but we came as individuals interested in the opportunity. And fortunately we were able to absorb the training without standards being changed, and even though we in the early years were in a segregated environment, (we) still proved our capability.

Q: It’s a content of character.

McGee: Well, thank you.

Q: We joked about this earlier, but which were your favorite airplanes to fly? I heard a guy ask you yesterday when we were getting into the car and this random guy walked up and said, “Sir, what did you fly?”

McGee: Yeah, well when you talk to an old fighter pilot you just end up realizing that the P-51 Mustang with that laminar flow wing, and then they switched from the Allison engine to the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, … (was) a wonderful little aircraft that was superb for the type of missions that we had to fly – particularly the high altitude and long range escort missions. So the P-51 stands out and even today, when a P-51 with that Merlin engine flies overhead, and you don’t even need to look you can say, “There goes a P-51….”

Q: Right.

McGee: You never forget that sound.

Q: Thirty years active duty -- you’ve been in combat, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. One of the things we like to share at the Air Force Association with the Air Force Memorial through Facebook and through social media – we are trying to reach younger Americans and are trying to pass on wisdom and advice.

McGee: Yeah, well ultimately I think for the young folks we need to know the history and what being successful meant not only to our country but really the world over. When we look at the nature of our fighting against Hitler and Europe and against specific areas, our young people need to understand the things that we enjoy, if you will, and our freedoms. Making an individual choice and preparing yourself are important today for them and for the future of our country. So, it’s often said you know, “freedom doesn’t come free” and what was paid for us being free was some lives lost, and many Americans providing a service that was needed at the time. So to have been able to have been a part of what was a success, if you will, for our country is something that keeps you … willing to pass on to youngsters that they need to believe in themselves and they need to believe in our part, and the opportunities, and realize to take advantage of those opportunities they have to prepare. Everything doesn’t get handed to you; you have to be a part of that making it a success.

Q: One last question. You’ve told me what you did once you got off back to Dewey but could you just kind of let us know. I know you went into business I know you ran the airport in Kansas City.

McGee: Yeah well I was fortunate. You know I got my degree late, late in life because I had two years when I got the call to enter the service as a cadet and get my wings, and become an officer. But after retirement I realized that although I’ve done some studies along the way, having a degree is still important, and as this is to my family and my children, you need to get your college education as well. I went on and put all of the studies that I’ve done over the years together and went on and got a degree in Business Administration, although that was a change from the initial early years, but it prepared me to be able to work in real estate and purchasing for a company after I retired and that was interesting.

The work that I was doing initially got changed when my wife took ill and passed, and so I had to take some time off because of that. But when I went back into the workforce I ended up managing the Kansas City downtown airport for a little over two years. This was wonderful, because it’s close to aircraft. And although I wasn’t, if you will, a first pilot in that endeavor it was still nice to be around airplanes and be knowledgeable about what’s going on in the aviation world.

Q: When was the last time you got to fly a plane?

McGee: Wow, my flying now has been, if somebody has a seat open I’m ready to go in the air.

Q: Really?

McGee: Fortunately there are a couple P-51’s around the country…

Q: There are, yeah.

McGee: That we call “Piggyback” but they took some equipment out that made it possible to put a seat there, and a control stick. So, even last year I had a P-51 ride and was able to still do a roll.

Q: You did?!

McGee: Haha, yes. And also PT-17 which is the primary trainers, the first aircraft I ever flew, and the one that I’ve always said after that first ride I knew I made the right decision.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

“Delivering an Operationally Effective Force in Fiscally Constrained Environment” Gen. G. Michael Hostage III, Commander, Air Combat Command

“In the months and years ahead, the future involves difficult choice,” began General Hostage. To consider as we move forward are the nation’s fiscal environment, what we must do to react to that environment, and the requirements involved in that action. Fittingly, for the concluding symposium session of this year’s Air Warfare Symposium, Hostage included the DoD, industry, civilians, and the Air Force family in what he sees as future operation effectiveness in today and tomorrow’s fight—we all must be a part of the solution.

Still a top priority is the care of Airmen and their families. “We cannot break faith with our most valuable resource,” Hostage said. This will include resiliency development for families as well. He sees a need for expanded ISR training and normalizing of the career field, close air support, improver opportunities, and above all, capability. “Capability is a critical concern,” on the operation side, as well as the future of 5th generation fighters.

It is essential to sufficiently modernize the rest of the fleet, which will involve some tough choices. Money spent on one program is money not spent on another program.

Overall, with the latest FY13 budget release, and the increasingly reality of a smaller force continuing to rely on older aircraft, each of the speakers at the conference looked forward with determination and creativity to the future.

“Enlisted Perspective” CMSAF James A. Roy, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force

Chief Roy started out by informing the audience that 68% of the current enlisted force joined after 9/11, adding that this is the most combat ardent force that we have ever had. The experiences the airmen of today have had over the past decade are much different than the older airmen have experienced over a 30 year career span. The airmen of today are what Chief Roy calls “digital natives”; they know technology, how it should and the potential it could be used for.

Roy asks if we can use technology to teach and develop our airmen, answering his own question by citing the variety of opportunities for growth that can be benefited by the ever changing advances. Opportunities for airmen to succeed as legislative liaisons, international affairs officers, academics, are just a few areas where airmen can continue to develop their skills and then assist the Air Force by applying their new skills to future missions. 

“We need to make sure we have the best people working on tasks that they are capable of completing efficiently,” Roy said when pointing out that we do not have unlimited capacity. As with most of our speaker sessions, Chief Roy fielded a few questions from the audience. One question lead Roy to discuss STEM disenchantment amongst high school students, which lead him to state the importance of “improving our engagement within local communities, focusing on outreach efforts that inform about STEM”.

Roy concluded by addressing the variety of people who serve in the force, and noted that what motivates one person to serve may not be the same as what motivates someone else. The leadership challenge is the make sure our military leaders key in to each individual motivation to keep each Airman engaged.

Another question highlighted the recent DADT proposition, to which Roy replied that it is a “nonissue” because leadership prepared the military community well in advance of its implementation.

“The Next Steps for Space and Cyberspace” and “Air Force Global Strike Command Update”

Lt. Gen. Basla, Vice Commander,
Air Force Space Command
Lt Gen Michael J. Basla, Vice Commander, Air Force Space Command, led a session entitled “The Next Steps for Space and Cyberspace".  

General Basla opened by discussing some of the everyday capabilities we take for granted that rely on our space and cyberspace presence, for example: GPS, RPA flights, and precision warfare. The danger in this field is when enemies interfere with our GPS abilities, thus increasing the probability of an impact on noncombatant lives. 

Cyberspace, where “minutes are an eternity”, is the newest domain the USAF seeks to tackle. As was the case with many of our speakers at AWS, Basla sees the fiscal restraints as an opportunity to explore new solutions to current tasks.

Later on in the morning, Lt. Gen. James M. Kowalski, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, gave attendees an update on Air Force Global Strike Command.
Lt. Gen. Kowalski, Commander,
Air Force Global Strike Command

While Russia is updating its triad, and China is focusing on land and marine improvements and ICMs, the US has lost some of its robustness and diversity over the past 20 years, began General Kowalski. To keep up, it’s important to modernize, reduce nukes, and manage risk. While our triad gives us options for escalation control, to avoid nuclear situations we need active deterrence. We continue to rely on the persistence of our long-range bombers, but the challenge is our aging force.

For many of the United States’ aircraft, like the UH1, the question is not IF but WHEN will we replace them. Internal upgrades for smarter weapons with a digital backbone are one solution, but we must continue to look forward for solutions.

“State of the Force” Honorable Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the Air Force

Friday morning began with Secretary Donley discussing the readiness of the force to take on the ever-changing dynamics of the current security environment. Continuing with the theme of focusing on the people, Donley insisted that we make attempts to "take care of the living engine that powers our Air Force."

With plans to decrease the budget from $39.3 billion from FY12 to $35.3 billion in FY13, programs across the board are being reevaluated and fiscally scrutinized. Donley mentioned plans to modernize 350 F16’s, a full commitment to the F35 (which is the largest single program in the USAF, making up 15% of total investments), as well as a critical need to build 5th generation fighters. 

Among the programs that are headed for termination include the Global Hawk Block 30 (could not justify the costs of improving the Block 30’s), the Defense Weather Satellite System (Congress declined to fund the DWSS this year), and the C-27J.

Donley praised the successful implementation of the Acquisition Improvement Plan over the past few years, and emphasized the continued effort to simplify how we do business. "We must not get complacent moving forward."

In light of budget cuts and program reassessment, Donley wants to make sure we sustain and maintain what we’ve bought and invested in already to ensure that we stay ready for future contingencies. With that, he insisted on the prolonged importance of the relationship between industry and government: "when we share a common challenge, we share a common responsibility."

In closing, Donley stated that modernization will not wait and is essential in maintaining the US advantage in air, space, and cyber space.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wrapping up the 2012 Annual Air Warfare Symposium

Day 2 of AFA's 28th Annual Air Warfare Symposium was another full and exciting day of presentations and opportunities for professional development. 

Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley began the day, leaving a good theme for the rest to follow: "We must not for one moment get complacent moving forward."

Attendees had the opportunity to hear from Lt. Gen Michael Basla, Vice Commander, Air Force Space Command; Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Roy; Lt. Gen James M. Kowalski, Commander, Global Strike Command; and Gen Gilmary M. Hostage, Command, Air Combat Command. [We'll have highlights from the presentations posted this weekend!]

It was another great symposium for AFA, and we were thrilled to be able to create another venue for open dialogue on the issues and challenges that face our national security and the U.S Air Force. Please check the AFA site in the coming days of audio recordings of this year's event! For pictures, check the AFA Facebook Page!

“Future Learning” Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., Commander, Air Force Education Command

General Rice declared that education, training, and experiences are the 3 legs of the force development stool. The importance of training is in the focus on standardizing outcomes in order to make sure people can complete tasks consistently. Education makes training relevant and adaptable depending on the details of each experience.

Technology provides a range of tools we didn’t have in the past, which offer new opportunities for development. These continuously updating training processes allow our current airmen to adapt to challenges we have not faced in the past, and those we are bound to face in the future. Today’s Airmen are comfortable in the cyberspace world, and are extremely capable of multitasking—something we should recognize and take advantage of in training. By adapting the learning process we will allow this new generation of Airmen to reach their highest potential.

General Rice points out that this is our smallest Air Force since its inception in 1947, which means each airman is responsible for a wider range of abilities than airmen of the past. The increased number of missions the Air Force deals with today requires current airmen to have a variety of skills that allow them to multitask efficiently.

“Soft Power” Brig. Gen. Les A. Kodlick, Director, Public Affairs, SECAF

This year's Air Warfare Symposium marked the first time the director of Public Affairs for SECAF has led a session at an AFA symposium!General Kodlick’s speech was a strong one, focused on the message the Air Force sends and how successfully that message is received by people. “Our messages lack credibility because we haven’t followed through on our promises; credibility is the goal,” Kodlick said while emphasizing the importance of setting a leadership example with communication.
In regards to the advances in social media, Kodlick insists these new media outlets are just another tool in the communications toolbox, citing that if the Facebook population was a nation, it would be the third largest in the world. Considerably, that is a lot of people communicating and sharing information on one platform. 
Kodlick defines “soft power” as the conceptual link to forming partnerships by using all communication abilities to bring facts to the global community, and points out that “Congress can make a General, but communications can make a Commanding General”. We must harness the power of innovative communication and change how we use it, because the enemy is doing just that.