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Meeting the challenge--the airmen of the world's greatest Air Force.

Thank you Chief Parente (President, Air Force Sergeant's Association International) for that gracious introduction.

General (Donald) Cook (Commander, Air Education and Training Command), Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Murray and our former Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force, Command Chiefs, First Sergeants, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I'm honored and humbled to be here tonight to accept this award and to address this audience of devoted airmen and their families. The airmen I joined on the stage tonight--along with the more than 700,000 active, guard, reserve and civilian airmen who serve so selflessly every day--are the sole reason I stand before you as an award winner. While deeply honored--particularly given the list of distinguished previous recipients--I recognize that this award is a reflection of our airmen's dedication ... to excellence, to our mission, and to the nation. For their service that has led to this award, I offer my most humble thanks.

The men and women of the Air Force have embraced Diane and me as members of the family from Day 1. For that, she and I will be eternally grateful. Life in the Air Force has provided us with many wonderful experiences and many indelible memories. Most significant is that, through the Air Force, we have met and befriended some of the finest Americans our nation has ever produced--our airmen.

In our travels around the Air Force, we have met many of our wonderful airmen--from the AOR of Southwest Asia to the rugged terrain of the Korean peninsula. We have been impressed with their loyalty and commitment to excellence, regardless of the challenges or demands they face. In all my years of public service and business, I have never been affiliated with an organization that can match the Air Force's institutional commitment to character and values. I love my Navy as I do our Air Force, but I can meaningfully say that no institution with which I am familiar "comes close to our Air Force." I"ll let you know about the Army if the Senate decides to agree with Secretary Rumsfeld and confirm me as Secretary of the Army. Right now, I am more than content to be your Secretary.

In the Air Force, integrity is part of our everyday business. It's why we are so successful in accomplishing our missions around the globe. It's why we remain the world's most dominant air and space force. And it is why, when asked, America's airmen deliver. Integrity, values, and character are at the core of everything we do, and for that, I am very proud to be a part of your team.

As such, it my distinct privilege to lead you and serve you--to fight the fights for capabilities, benefits, and improvements that benefit our airmen and their ability to accomplish our mission. To work closely with General John Jumper to make this powerful element of American national power even better, even stronger, and even more professional.

Unfortunately we are never lacking for opportunities to fight the good fight, but over the past couple of years, we have made progress on a number of fronts:

* Our new enlisted force development plan, part of the total force development program, will prepare enlisted members with the skills and education needed to achieve their potential

* We have increased direct compensation, reduced out-of-pocket housing expenses, and are partnering with industry to bring thousands of new Air Force homes up to the highest standards of housing all across America

* We continue to work on improvements to medical care and are intensely focused on providing the services you and your families need, regardless of your location and

* We continue to evolve the structure and composition of our force to meet the demands of an expeditionary mission, while providing a measure of stability to you and your families.

Much of what we have accomplished we have done with the help of our ally, the Air Force Sergeant's Association. I speak for General Jumper as well as myself when I thank you for all that you have helped us achieve.

There is still much work to be done--but we will continue to strive to improve quality of life at home and in the workplace, whether it is in an office, on the flightline, or in the desert, for our entire Air Force family.

There are areas where you also can help. Tonight we have met and honored some of the top enlisted leaders in their field.

We all need to encourage other promising noncommissioned officers to stretch their potential and step up to the challenges of leadership. I am discouraged that we are seeing shortages in our First Sergeant manning, and that more master sergeants are not taking advantage of this remarkable leadership opportunity. First Sergeants provide an invaluable service to the Air Force as a whole. They are essential to good order and discipline, and they provide valuable training for junior enlisted, young officers, and, dare I say, commanders.

But even those of us who are not First Sergeants have an important duty to mentor those junior to us, to share our knowledge with those around us. I am continually amazed at the depth of experience and wisdom of our non-commissioned officer corps--you possess an unfathomable well of knowledge, but it risks going untapped unless you offer to share your advice and counsel. Let us all draw from the example of the men and women we honored here tonight, and strive not only to be the best, but to share the best of ourselves with those around us.

These award winners represent all that is good about our service. They have distinguished themselves from thousands of our most talented airman--the best and the brightest the nation has to offer. They have worked very hard to be here, and they deserve our praise and admiration. Please join me in again saluting these distinguished airmen.

Let me thank the Air Force Sergeant's Association (AFSA) for sponsoring and hosting this convention this week and this banquet tonight. Recognition of these airmen--airmen who work in the service of others--is but one example of the great work AFSA does for all of us, whether active, guard, reserve or retired. They've promoted youth programs, raised funds, provided for our families, recruited members into our Air Force, and have been relentless advocates for the issues that most affect the enlisted force. We are fortunate to have people at AFSA like Jim Stanton, Kathryn Oden and Michael Parente serving our airmen.

On behalf of my partner, John Jumper, I thank each of you for your continued service, and offer my sincere gratitude to everyone at AFSA for all you have done to improve the lives of our airmen and their families.

The theme of your conference this year--"Challenging Times, New Opportunities"--is very appropriate. As we survey recent history and consider the decades ahead, it is clear that it will require a sustained effort from our armed forces to promote freedom around the globe and to preserve our nation's security.

Over the past two years and three months--my tenure as your Secretary--our brave airmen have repeatedly delivered--from defending our skies at home to fighting the war on terrorism across the globe, all while transforming our force to meet the needs of a new era of new threats. There is no doubt we are the best Air Force in the world; and we will remain so because of the officer, enlisted and civilian airmen who understand so well how to enable and deliver air and space power to joint warfighting.

Since the end of the Cold War and our long struggle with communism, airmen--working with our colleagues and allies--have liberated the oppressed, have defeated the tyrannical, and have renewed the road to liberty for many nations around the world. Consider for just a moment the citizens of the world community who have benefited in the past decade from your service and unparalleled sacrifice--including Kuwaitis and Somalis, Haitians and Colombians, Koreans and Japanese, Bosnians and Kosovars, Romanians and Georgians, Poles and Czechs, Turks and Kurds, Filipinos and Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis. Every corner of the globe, in places many of us have had to find on a map before we went--Americans have served proudly on behalf of the U. S. Air Force. In the last two years alone, Afghanistan has been liberated, the Taliban defeated, the Iraqi people have been freed from the control of a despot. All thanks to the efforts of the Air Force and our colleagues in the other services and the coalition.

In our most recent campaign, our airmen--like our colleagues in the other services and our allies--performed superbly and courageously. Their dedication and tactical excellence mark them as the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen. They combined an innate respect for the law, self-discipline, and sensitivity to protecting vulnerable civilian populations with a ferocious display of speed, maneuver, precision, and firepower. Still, they delivered humanitarian aid to the citizens of Iraq while combat operations were ongoing. These are achievements for which all of us--whether airmen or members of our sister services--should be very proud.

The foundation of our success can be found in two simple concepts: teamwork and trust. This was a truly joint warfighting effort from planning to execution. Air, ground, maritime and space forces working together--at the same time for the same objective--not merely staying out of each other's way--but orchestrated to produce a decisive outcome through effects integrated in time and place. And when our ground forces engaged with the enemy, they knew they could trust the coalition's air forces to be there--either in advance of their attacks, or in support of their assaults.

History will judge how well we sustain these accomplishments. Much work still remains to defeat the asymmetric threats of the present and the future. For instance, we need to focus much more--and now--on what we can do to help our American and allied troops on patrol in Iraq, day after day, and night after night--standing or going into harm's way, even as you and I celebrate together tonight. Our Air Force heritage of developing skilled airmen, creating technology for warfighting, and integrating our diverse capabilities can and will produce decisive effects on the battlefield--effects that our combatant commanders need and effects that deliver success in conflict. And right now, our ground troopers--and Air Force special operators--need us.

These principles will guide us as we organize, train, and equip for the future, and will be the foundation upon which we will adapt our force for the 21st century.

As our world continues to shrink through the wonders of advances in communication, your continued service will remain vital to those around the world who value freedom and liberty. Cultures will continue to clash, and the vital interests of our nation will require the service and sacrifice of brave men and women.

I have often said that there is no greater era in the history of our Air Force to be serving our nation. We have delivered on our commitment to bring air and space power to bear on our enemies, to reassure our friends and allies, and to defend our homeland.

We have fulfilled the dreams of the visionary leaders who founded the Air Force, creating decisive and compelling effects from high above. We have renewed our focus on joint operations and the importance of integration with ground forces. Generals Arnold and Quesada would be proud. And we have demonstrated to the world the professionalism, competence, and incredible skill of airmen--men and women steeped in the warrior ethos and prepared to sacrifice their lives in the service of a cause greater than themselves.

In the year in which we celebrate the centennial of our powered ascent into the skies, we recall this history, to celebrate the achievements of our heroic airmen--as we have done tonight--and to renew our commitment to these important values.

During this century of powered flight, we have transformed the way we wage war during an era of unmatched innovation, invention, and exploration. This is your heritage; and what you now do is your legacy for generations to come. Like you, I'm proud to say that I too am an "airman."

Again, I offer my sincere thanks for this recognition and offer my heartfelt congratulations to the award winners. Diane and I are privileged to be with you this evening. You simply are spectacular. May God bless you, your families, and the United States of America.

Dr. James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force

Remarks at the the Air Force Sergeant's Association Honors Banquet, Las Vegas, Nev., Aug. 21, 2003
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Publication:Air Force Speeches
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 21, 2003
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