General John D.W. Corley
Vice Chief of Staff, Headquarters U.S. Air Force
Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition 2006
Sept. 25, 2006
Outstanding Airmen of the Year Dinner
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Just a couple of short weeks ago I joined the rest of the department in a ceremony commemorating 9/11. It was, of course, referenced in terms of the attacks that started the Global War on Terror, but for most of you in this room, you know we shouldn’t forget that our United States Air Force has been engaged in continuous battle for much longer. In 1990 your United States Air Force deployed to the Arabian Gulf for Desert Storm and we never left. For those of you that are checking the calendar here, we’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for more than a year longer than the entirety of World War II. So that puts just a little bit of a punctuation mark on fighting and winning a long war on terror.
To do that we have to have our Airmen doing amazing things day in and day out, and they interestingly enough, especially for this group, they make it look easy. So let me take just a minute if I can, what I’d like to do is give you a sample of what these 12 Airmen are involved in day in and day out and some of the accomplishments of your Air Force.
Today, just today, your Air Force flew 2,753 sorties. But if you try to put that into perspective and you think about Washington National/Reagan Airport, we flew more sorties today than Reagan’s going to fly the entirety of this week.
And for anybody that’s ever driven up I-95 or understands where Fredericksburg, Virginia is, that’s a nice little town. It’s got 20,000, 25,000 people living in it. It’s spread out over about 12 square miles. Today your Airmen are going to move two million pounds of cargo; they’re going to move almost 3,000 people. That’s like moving the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia three times a month. Pack it up, pick it up, all of those household goods, everything that those people belong to and move it on an almost weekly basis.
Every 90 seconds another AMC aircraft departs on a mission, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And you know, we’re not just moving cargo. We’re going to fly 13 Medevac missions before the night is over. That’s going to have 50 warriors that need urgent medical care – 13 Medevac mission, 50 folks that are warriors that deserve that kind of care, and your United States Air Force will do that.
When you think about it, it does have an effect. Ninety-five percent of those folks that are able to get to Balad Air Base are going to survive. And when you think about it, in less than 72 hours usually they’re back in the best hospitals inside of the United States – 72 hours.
Just turn the clock back to World War II. It took you months to get back if you were injured, and your chances of survival certainly weren’t nearly 95 percent.
Today, we’re keeping convoys off the roads at an increasing rate and we’re doing that through intratheater airlift. Every day 150-plus C-130 sorties just within the Central Command AOR. So 150 C-130 sorties. What that means is we’re reducing convoys by over 200. What does that mean? 4,700 vehicles are off the roads. So what does that mean most importantly? 7,800 warriors are not being exposed to the threat of improvised explosive devices. To make this all possible Airmen have pumped 2.4 billion, yep, that’s billion with a B, gallons worth of jet fuel.
So as you look across this group of 750 people that are in the audience tonight you get the opportunity to commute free. And you’re going to be able to go to and from the moon free. Every single person in here is going to be able to do that for more than a month. That’s your United States Air Force.
And we’ve accomplished all of that while we’ve been good stewards. Good stewards of the environment.
The Air Force is the United States largest, if you will, user of renewable energy. We’ve got four bases that operate 100 percent on renewable energy. That’s setting the standard not just for the Department of Defense, but for our nation.
There's quite a few moving parts in our Air Force, and I’ve got to be frank with you, those parts move in such perfect unison that sometimes these great Airmen are forgotten. They sometimes seem to be invisible. But you know we’ve got 179,000 Airmen that are supporting the global war on terror with combatant commanders across this great globe every single day; that our Airmen are flying unmanned systems out of Nellis Air Force Base; or today Airmen will operate 100 satellites providing your communications, your global positioning, your intelligence. Today there’s more than 6,000 Airmen alone responsible for providing strategic deterrence, and they’re doing that by manning and maintaining and guarding our ICBM fleet. They’re going to do that over a land mass greater than the size of Pennsylvania.
Today Airmen will fight the war and they will win the war with our joint partners in Iraq and Afghanistan and they will also defend our homeland. We’ve got 4,000-plus Airmen making sure that 100 fighters, tankers, AWACS aircraft are available to respond to tasking 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It doesn’t stop there for your Air Force accomplishments. While fully engaged in all of those essential missions, the Air Force continues to provide this nation with emergency response. Remember Hurricane Rita? Remember Hurricane Katrina? While the destruction of infrastructure stifled the ground transportation, Americans and that American Air Force, and your American Airmen continued to reach flooded areas and bring relief.
And our humanitarian efforts didn’t just stop at our borders. Last year we flew 10-million pounds of relief supplies to Pakistan after their earthquake. Those first supplies arrived and touched down in less than 48 hours.
And we’re executing more than just traditional Air Force missions. We’re providing base defense outside the wire. We’re doing 4,400 plus taskings for our sister services. These in-lieu-of taskings are providing the Army and are providing the Marine Corps with brave Airmen like you see in front of you, to relieve the stress on their force and fill critical shortages.
We can’t forget the traditional role that’s at the core of your Air Force. We are the nation’s global strike experts. Your Air Force can hold any target set at risk, any threat environment or weather, any where in the world day or night.
So I guess I would ask you, if you remember the former al-Qaida leader in Iraq, he was found holed up in a residence in a date grove, or maybe I should say a former residence. So if you could ask Zarqawi today he’d probably tell you, the United States Air Force makes house calls.
(Laughter and Applause].
There’s no end in sight. The struggle against terror is going to be a long and a difficult road, and a road these magnificent Airmen that are up here tonight, they don’t shy away from that road.
So how is it these 12 great Americans that are arrayed in front of you this evening, what ideals do they personify? What do they cherish so much? Perhaps the answer is going to be on the north wall of that new Air Force Memorial. In my mind there's a perfect inscription there by the first Chief Master of the Air Force Paul Airey. Let me read it for you, if I can.
“When I think of the enlisted force I see dedication, determination, loyalty, and valor.”
He had it right. We see these traits in the Airmen before us. We see the same traits that Chief Airey saw in his Airmen.
Take dedication. It runs through Staff Sergeant Sewell, a Personnel Employment Journeyman has saved over 100 instructor pilot billets during the [Vance] conversion of trainer aircraft. Her dedication also led to the revamping of base in-processing procedures supporting 380 Airmen, but you may have missed it, error free.
Or Staff Sergeant Pena. His dedication, professionalism, Security Combat Arms Instructor led to his selection as a member of Iraq’s Deputy Commanding General Security Team. Okay. Where he was combat tested during more than 110 mounted and dismounted patrols.
Dedication like that of Staff Sergeant Plachno who before being promoted was the only Senior Airman Airborne Communication System Operator ever qualified to fly with the President. So you’ve got to imagine a job where every time you go to work there are massive strategic implications and the safety of our country is at stake.
Senior Master Sergeant Parker. A Services Squadron Superintendent who directed the largest combat support and resource management flights in the AOR, leading 45 Airmen, 33 programs, 15 different facilities. His dedication, it didn’t just generate $100,000 in non-appropriated funds. What it did was touch the lives of over 6,000 folks.
Dedication to mission demonstrated by Staff Sergeant Dierickx. Look, you may have missed it. He volunteered for not just his second but his third OIF rotation as an Air Traffic Controller, and while there he directed thousands of flights under his watch including guiding a battle damaged Marine helicopter back safely. Alive today because of his efforts.
Chief Airey also spoke about determination. Determination like we’ve read about in the book the Greatest Generation, during World War II. These Airmen on stage possess the same fire or determination to win the Global War on Terror.
Take Master Sergeant Williams, a Command Equipment Manager whose determination led to recognition capable rates for over 400 aircraft. Did you listen to that? Including B-52s, which she helped return to flight in just one day instead of the normal five. Her dedication also touched the Pakistani people. You missed that part, didn’t you? When she accelerated the purchase of construction supplies critical for relief efforts during that earthquake.
Or Tech Sergeant Tramel from Civil Engineering. The sole liaison to the Iraqi Oil Delegation and their principle Air Force advisor. His determination led to the successful completion of the number one project in Iraq – construction of a critical oil pipeline river crossing. One Airman’s determination, one Airman having a global impact.
Senior Master Sergeant Lemke, whose determination set the standard for Contracting Superintendents in Iraq. He sourced a life line for our warriors, supplying convoys by providing secure satellite communications. And he helped the Iraqis determine the future by providing buses for transportation to get the voters to the polling sites. One Airman enabling democracy.
Chief Airey spoke about valor. Like the Airmen who took to the skies in World War I with a life expectancy of three weeks. They flew in flack-filled skies in German over World War II. These brave Airmen, I would tell you, have passed the torch of valor and they understand what it’s like.
Take Senior Airman Bobseine, a Security Forces member who went on the offensive against the insurgents, participated in 45 missions, 30 ambushes, five direct action raids. And for those of you that might not know, she was a member of an entry team. They’re the first ones that get to clear an insurgent stronghold.
Staff Sergeant Hansen who showed his valor as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Crafts man. That’s again, something that has no soul. By defeating every improvised explosive device he faced, including a vehicle-borne explosive device that weighed more than a quarter ton.
Tech Sergeant Reilly. Combat controller who after being wounded during a firefight made his way to a fallen teammate to apply a lifesaving tourniquet. Sergeant Reilly continued to fight wounded for another three hours. He directly engaged the enemy with his own weapon. He called in airstrikes. He kept his team alive until they could even coordinate the Medevac.
Or the torch of valor as carried by Joint Terminal Air Controller Staff Sergeant Bishop who ensured the survival of not one, but two Army Special Forces teams by controlling close air support for 48 hours, creating hope. For in valor there is hope.
Chief Airey spoke about loyalty. I guess while dedication and determination and valor are magnificent qualities, they must serve a higher purpose. They must be bound together, in my mind, by loyalty. Woodrow Wilson told us that loyalty really means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self sacrifice. These Airmen that are before you this evening have demonstrated their loyalty, their self sacrifice. Some enlisted in the Air Force after 9/11, some have deployed, some have faced the enemy, but I’ve got to tell you, all of them have sacrificed. They sacrificed for our nation, for our families, for our children, and they’ve sacrificed for you.
So as our first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force saw years ago, dedication, determination, loyalty and valor, those are the characteristics that make our Airmen great. They are the same ideals Airmen have pursued since we took to the skies in 1909. At their core, all Airmen share the same essence, the same driving force, the willingness to answer the call to service to something greater, and the willingness to lay down their lives to defend our nation and our way of life.
Tonight we celebrate the service of our Airmen. We celebrate the accomplishments of these 12. And take a moment also to thank their families for their sacrifice.
To each of our Outstanding Airmen and to your families let me say we’re proud of you. You embody everything that we hold dear. You represent the highest ideals of our Air Force.
Congratulations, and thank you for serving this great nation.
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