People--the constant that makes us great

  • Published
  • By Col. Joe Turk
  • 721st Mission Support Group commander
On Oct.1, I will retire from the Air Force after 26 years of active duty service, four years as an Air Force Academy cadet and 19 years as an Air Force family member.

During my preparation for retirement, I've been reflecting on my time in the Air Force and the changes I have seen throughout the years.

When I came on active duty in 1987 the Cold War was in its final stages and the Soviet Union was the major threat to our national security. Two short years later, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and the Soviet Union began its epic breakdown; however, new threats to our security developed as rogue states rattled their sabers, global terrorist groups sought to destroy our way of life, and new peer nations with ideological differences rose to challenge us. Throughout the evolution of these threats and a change in the world's power structure, our Air Force has remained the world's greatest Air Force, and now, the world's greatest Air, Space and Cyberspace force. But, that does not mean we have been immune to change.

Almost every part of our Air Force has changed in some way--from the uniforms we wear to how we are organized to what we call ourselves and how we perform basic functions. We have gone from wearing fatigues to BDUs and DCUs to now wearing ABUs. Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command were our dominant war fighting commands flying B-52s and the then state-of-the-art F-15 and F-16 fighters. These evolved in the early 1990s to become Air Combat Command with stealth fighters and bombers and the most recently established Global Strike Command.

My own career field has gone through a series of changes. In 1987 I was a communications officer organized under Air Force Communications Command with Communications Divisions. There were no networks -- you were fortunate if you had a stand-alone boat anchor called a Z-248 to perform basic word processing functions. In 2013, we are now cyber operators dispersed through every Air Force command, and we would have difficulty completing the most basic tasks without our networked desktop computers and wireless devices. Yes, I have been with our Air Force through some monumental changes, but there has also been one constant that has made and kept us great -- our people.

It begins with our backbone -- our NCO and senior NCO corps. Their leadership and technical expertise ensure the mission gets done no matter the challenges put in front of them. I have worked with other Air Forces around the globe, from allies in Europe to the developing Iraqi Air Force we have been training since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the leaders of these nations are amazed at the responsibility and authority empowered to our NCOs and the confidence and trust we have in them. Our officers can effectively delegate mission tasks to our NCOs because we know they will lead their Airmen to accomplish the mission.

Our officer corps is the most educated in the world. In addition to military training, we require every officer to have a Bachelor's Degree before they are eligible to be commissioned and require a master's degree for continued advancement. Our system does not allow for nepotism or political appointees. We continuously develop our officers to have a keen understanding of global security, military strategy, national security decision making, Air Force and Joint doctrine, and cultural studies through a rigorous professional military education program designed to ensure they can provide strategic and operational-level leadership.

Finally, our civilian Airmen provide the experience and continuity of knowledge critical to accomplishing the mission. As officers and NCOs move in and out of organizations, our civilians ensure they have the historical picture of the organization and its mission so they can quickly become effective in their new roles to eliminate gaps in performance due to personnel turnover.

No matter what we wear, how we are organized or the technology we use, it is our people that make our Air Force the dominant force we are. You are truly what makes us great. It has been my honor to serve with you. On behalf of our nation, thank you for what you have done, and will continue to do to protect our nation and our way of life.