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Air Force 58th birthday--earning our wings.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force CMSAF Gerald R. Murray

Remarks at the Air Force Ball, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Sept. 17, 2005

It's truly an honor to be here with you all tonight as we mark the creation of our Air Force as an independent service. I'm grateful to be celebrating this milestone with some of the finest men and women serving in the world's greatest Air and Space force today.

Fifty-eight years ago, the stroke of President Harry Truman's pen launched America's Air Force. Interestingly, President Truman was flying aboard the "Sacred Cow"--the predecessor to "Air Force One," when he signed the National Security Act of 1947. So, we were born "in the air" and our dominance of the skies continues today.

As a force we've witnessed the world change in almost unimaginable ways in our nearly six decades. We fought wars in Southeast Asia--Korea and Vietnam--as well as in Southwest Asia--the Persian Gulf. We witnessed the end of a decades-long Cold War and the rise of a Global War on Terrorism.

We are now seeing the seeds of democracy taking root in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other nations around the world. Our Air Force is continuing to play a pivotal role in making these remarkable changes possible.

Air Force Airmen are not only making historical contributions on the battlegrounds, but also through humanitarian relief. The deadliest disasters in our lifetime came in the form of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and an equally powerful tsunami, ravaging Asia and the coastal areas of East Africa. More than 200,000 people from 12 countries lost their lives and a region was devastated. In a course of weeks, your Air Force delivered over 15 million pounds of humanitarian aid to tsunami-stricken countries.

Now the call to save lives has come in again..... this time on our own homeland.

Like many of you, for the past three weeks I've been transfixed by the images from our Gulf Coast region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The scope of destruction is unprecedented in American history. Some 90,000 square miles--that's an area roughly equivalent to the size of Great Britain, is devastated.

I traveled with our Secretary, Pete Geren, to the region yesterday and I can tell you first hand, the military response to this disaster has been nothing short of amazing.

Our Air Force, active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve have led efforts in heroic ways.

Day after day, helicopter rescuers plucked men, women and children from rooftops during the largest search and rescue operation since Vietnam. In the first week alone, Air Force pararescuemen airlifted more than 5,000 people from the New Orleans area.

One of those rescuers, Senior Airman Jack Earnshaw, a PJ (pararescueman) from Nellis AFB said, "There's nothing more rewarding than giving back to our country and serving Americans."

They make it look easy, but the fact is, these rescues are dangerous. They demand every bit of skill these teams can muster, as they dodge power lines, trees and confined spaces to reach flood victims.

Airmen from your team have been right there in the thick of things too. For the first time in our history, Air Force Space Command deployed eight helicopters and crews to aid in the hurricane relief. This is truly significant as these Airmen are normally dedicated to "top cover" security for America's ICBM force.

Disasters of this magnitude often call on people to do the break the mold. Air Force Space Command answered the call. And with the help of Malmstrom Airmen, lives have been saved and scores of victims have food, water and a dry place to sleep.

There was also an amazing effort at the Louis Armstrong Airport, where many of the injured and the elderly of New Orleans were brought for evacuation.

Our military medical teams treated more than 6,000 people in the first 96 hours and helped over 14,000 so far.

Our aircrews are delivering an incredible amount of food and critical supplies to the three states, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In the first week alone, Air Force planes delivered nearly 5,500 tons of supplies to Katrina relief sites. Today they have flown more than 2,500 flights, and moved over 27,500 passengers.

Keesler AFB, Miss., which was right in the path of the storm, provided shelter for than 6,000 Airmen and their families. While the base sustained tremendous damage, there were no casualties. Although nearly 1,000 base houses and facilities are damaged beyond repair, the runway was re-opened in only 11 hours after the storm swept through. Now, Keesler has become a vital staging are for Gulf Coast relief efforts.

With storm clouds still on the horizon, C-17 Globemasters and C-130 Hercules aircraft started flying in much-needed food and water. When they left, they evacuated critically ill patients, expectant mothers and technical training students to other bases. With all the air traffic, in three days the base quickly transitioned from the 99th busiest runway in the Air Force to the 5th.

As soon as the weather cleared enough to venture outside, Airmen began to funnel food, water and medical supplies to devastated neighboring communities.

Air Force assets are being called on in many other ways, as well. A reconnaissance aircraft from Offutt AFB is capturing aerial imagery of the Gulf Region. These images are used by FEMA to quickly assess the status of roads and evacuation routes and evaluate the extent of damage to critical facilities such as oil rigs, hospitals, and military installations.

Airmen in specialties such as security, medical, civil engineering, aircraft maintenance and air traffic control and communications are providing vital support to this hard-hit region.

The Katrina relief operation is a monumental task, but it is only the latest in a series of challenging missions that the Air Force has taken on since its inception and performed so remarkably.

This month, and for much of the past year, the world has marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. It's no coincidence that the Air Force became a separate service just two years after the end of that global conflict, as World War II was the ultimate proving ground for air power.

One of the Air Force's most important "founding fathers" was General Henry "Hap" Arnold. As the only five-star general in Air Force history, Gen. Arnold organized and led the world's greatest aerial armada to victory against the Nazis in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific.

But it's also important to remember that when "Hap" Arnold became a pilot in 1911, the U.S. military owned just two airplanes! In the three decades that followed, a small band of airpower advocates developed aerial tactics and doctrine and "pushed the envelope" of flight technology. They also lobbied vigorously--and often unsuccessfully--within the military community for the value of aviation assets. World War II effectively ended that debate.

But even visionaries like "Hap" Arnold who dreamed of an independent Air Force could hardly have imagined where their vision would take us.

2004 marked 50 years of our Air Force Space and Missile program. In only a half a century we have led our nation into outer space and created a deterrent that was critical to winning the Cold War, while maintaining our overall security.

The intercontinental ballistic missile remains one of the greatest assets to our military force. Your mission to operate, maintain, and secure this vital system is absolutely critical to our warfighters and our nation. You should be proud of your role in national security and your place in our history.

Air Force "blue suiters" have shaped history in many ways in the past six decades. There were the monumental supply efforts of the Berlin Airlift, and the dogfights in "MiG Alley" in the skies over Korea.

There were the "Wild Weasels" of Vietnam, deliberately drawing enemy SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) so their fellow Airmen could bomb North Vietnamese positions. And we had the spectacular performance of Stealth fighters and precision-guided weapons during Desert Storm.

In the Global War on Terror, space assets have helped us achieve even greater precision, speed and maneuver ability throughout the theater. Wherever America's interests are threatened, America's Air Force has, and continues to, answer the call.

Since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, followed by Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, the Air Force's Air Mobility Command has flown more than 52,000 missions, and moved 1.4 million tons of supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our tankers have flown nearly 15,000 missions, during which they refueled nearly 22,000 aircraft.

In Iraq alone, our fighters have flown more than 30,000 sorties and dropped more than 21,300 munitions, 70 percent of which were precision guided.

We have more than 23,000 active duty and over 5,000 members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve deployed to the Persian Gulf region. This is a Total Force effort, all the way.

But these numbers really don't begin to tell the whole story. Our Air Force and Airmen are taking on tremendous challenges. Whether they are traditional flying operations, or non-traditional roles in partnership with our sister service, their commitment is phenomenal.

For example, our Airmen are heavily involved in ground convoy operations--some of the most dangerous duty in Iraq. In July, Airmen at Balad Air Base reached the 3-million-mile mark in convoys driven on the roads of Iraq.

Our medical teams operate closer to the front lines than ever before. Patients are getting advanced medical care within hours, not days or weeks, as they had in the past. The result is that we're seeing the lowest death rate of wounded Soldiers in any war in history.

Nevertheless, the loss of any of our men and women is deeply felt. And our nation has lost far too many good men and women to terrorism.

There's no question the road to democracy in Iraq will be a long and difficult one. But however long it takes, you can be sure that the men and women of the U.S. Air Force will be there, both in the air and on the ground, doing whatever needs to be done to achieve our assigned mission.

So what lies ahead? The Air Force has truly earned its wings in its first 58 years of existence. We cannot know what challenges await for those who wear the Air Force uniform. After all, who could have predicted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or the devastation along the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina?

But the Air Force has a rich tradition of preparing for the unknown and rising to meet its challenges. I am confident that you, America's Airmen are ready for any task.

Thank you for inviting me to share this time with you, thank you for your service, and for all you do in support of our Air Force team.
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Publication:Air Force Speeches
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 17, 2005
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