We need to do better job of sharing Air Force story

  • Published
  • By Col. Greg Touhill
  • 81st Training Wing commander
Last week, Maj. Gen. Paul Selva, Air Force director of strategic planning, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the Air Force has a requirement for an additional $20 billion each year over the next five years to solve the problem of an already aged aircraft fleet stressed to its limit by more than 17 consecutive years of combat operations. 

"What we've done is put the requirement on the table that says, 'If we're going to do the missions you're going to ask us to do, it will require this kind of investment.' Failing that, we take what is already a geriatric Air Force, and we drive it for another 20 years into an area of uncertainty," he said. 

The general's comments were met with shock in many circles around the country, although Airmen with recent combat experience praised his candor in telling the Air Force story. 

Why were those who were shocked by General Silva's comments caught unaware? I've talked with many people around the country who are astonished to hear the average age of our planes is over 25 years, our Airmen have been engaged in combat operations continually since 1990 and our Airmen are heavily engaged in the ground fight in the Middle East. 

They're startled to hear of the nation's F-15s -- our principal air defenders -- being grounded after in-flight failures that caused a Missouri Air National Guard F-15 with 5,000 flight hours to snap in half during flight. Fortunately, the pilot, while seriously injured, was able to eject and survived. 

They are shocked to hear our B-52s and almost every one of our 400-plus KC-135 tankers are older than I am. 

Perhaps all this is because the public hasn't been hearing the Air Force story ... a story we Airmen need to tell. Consider: 

An Air Force officer attends a local chamber of commerce meeting. 

An Air Force civilian or contractor takes his wife to a crowded fundraiser. 

An Air Force sergeant returns home from the desert, then goes to his local church for the first time in months. 

What do these scenarios have in common? They offer each of these individuals an opportunity to tell the Air Force story. 

In recent years, the Air Force has become a victim of its own success. Although all of us know it takes a lot of hard work to keep operations running smoothly, in our efforts to provide this nation with worldwide air, space and cyberspace dominance, sometimes we've made it look too easy. We've done our job well and haven't had to toot our horn through glitzy and expensive recruiting ads on TV because we didn't need to spend that money in the hope of recruiting America's best -- they came to us anyway. As a result, the public is often unaware of the Air Force's contributions to our national security. 

Now we find we haven't succeeded in telling our fellow Americans about the return on their investment in the Air Force. As we enter the budget development cycle in Washington, and as the electorate considers our nation's future, now is a great time to reeducate everyone on what the Air Force brings to the fight and how we're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. 

And don't think telling our story is self-serving. Explaining the Air Force's role in the war on terrorism doesn't diminish the other services' contributions. It just points out we bluesuiters are playing just as important a role as our sister services -- it's a joint fight for freedom. America deserves to hear the facts as it engages in the public debate that makes our nation the greatest in the world. 

We all have a story to tell. Officer or enlisted, civilian or military, we should all be proud of our commitment to this country, and be willing to show that pride. The Air Force message not only includes our role in the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also our work around the world in humanitarian operations, as well as our role here at home in disaster relief, border defense and hurricane hunting. America's Air Force is heavily involved in a variety of engagements around the world and the nation. 

As you go about your everyday life, keep an eye out for opportunities to tell the Air Force story.  How do you make sure you know what you're talking about? Here's a great Web site resource: http://www.af.mil/ library/afstory.asp

Being in the Air Force for as many years as I have, I appreciate the fact the work we do directly contributes to the safety and security of our citizens. Believe me, our fellow citizens want to hear about it. So wherever you go and whatever you do, remember you're an Air Force ambassador. Go ahead ... be proud about what you do and share the Air Force story.