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Air Force secretary meets veterans, addresses issues

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley presents Senior Airman Brandy Griffith and fellow members of the 55th Force Support Squadron with a coin for excellence in preparing a senior leadership breakfast Aug. 11 at the Ronald L. King Dining Facility at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley presents Senior Airman Brandy Griffith and fellow members of the 55th Force Support Squadron with a coin for excellence in preparing a senior leadership breakfast Aug. 11 at the Ronald L. King Dining Facility at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley speaks with Air Force veteran Thomas Riley (left) and Army National Guard veteran Sgt. Jamie Ruddick (right) about their time in service during an Aug. 11 tour of the VA Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. Secretary Donley visited with veterans living in the Omaha area during his visit as part of Air Force Week in the Heartland. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley speaks with Air Force veteran Thomas Riley (left) and Army National Guard veteran Sgt. Jamie Ruddick (right) about their time in service during an Aug. 11 tour of the VA Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. Secretary Donley visited with veterans living in the Omaha area during his visit as part of Air Force Week in the Heartland. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley interacts with community leaders during a Senior Leadership Conference at the Scott Conference Center Aug. 11 in Omaha, Neb. The secretary visited the was participating in Air Force Week in the Heartland, which is designed to broaden awareness of the Air Force's role in the war on terrorism and strengthen support for Airmen serving worldwide in defense of freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley interacts with community leaders during a Senior Leadership Conference at the Scott Conference Center Aug. 11 in Omaha, Neb. The secretary visited the was participating in Air Force Week in the Heartland, which is designed to broaden awareness of the Air Force's role in the war on terrorism and strengthen support for Airmen serving worldwide in defense of freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

OMAHA, Neb. (AFPN) -- The acting secretary of the Air Force talked to Airmen, military veterans and Nebraska civic leaders during Air Force Week in the Heartland Aug. 11 in Omaha and at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

Secretary Michael B. Donley had breakfast with Airmen assigned to Offutt AFB, visited the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Omaha to personally meet veterans receiving care at the hospital and then spoke to local community leaders at the Scott Conference Center to discuss the status of the Air Force.

While at Offutt AFB, the secretary presented coins to members of the 55th Force Support Squadron who worked at the Ronald L. King Dining Facility for their outstanding service.

At the VA Medical Center, Secretary Donley toured the hospital and stopped along the way to talk to veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. One veteran the secretary talked to was Army National Guard Sgt. Jamie Ruddick. Sergeant Ruddick injured his back wearing 60 pounds of armor during a 15-month tour from 2006 to 2007 while serving with the 754th Chemical Company in Iraq. He since has had his back fused and uses a cane to help support his weight.

"I'm honored for the opportunity to talk to the secretary of the Air Force," Sergeant Ruddick said. "I'm glad he took the time to show he cares about me and other veterans."

The secretary then held a roundtable discussion with Heartland civic leaders and expressed his appreciation for all their support.

"(The Air Force) is grateful to the greater community here and the communities across the river in Iowa for being such gracious hosts this week, especially as we celebrate all things Air Force in this area," Secretary Donley said. "Your encouragement to our Air Force members and Defense Department civilians and their families make a noticeable difference in their quality of life."

Air Force Week in the Heartland runs from Aug. 9 through 17. It is a part of a proactive initiative to increase communication with the public. Air Force Week includes community visits and talks by Air Force officials, flight demonstration team performances and displays highlighting the Air Force men and women serving on the front lines.

Prior to assuming his current position, Secretary Donley served as the director of Administration and Management in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. From 1989 to 1993, he was the assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management and comptroller. He then served as the acting secretary of the Air Force for seven months. Mr. Donley has 30 years of experience in the national security community, including service in the Senate, White House and the Pentagon.

It has been 15 years since Secretary Donley last served as the acting secretary of the Air Force, but he said much has changed.

"We are a more expeditionary Air Force deployed to dozens of places across the globe," the secretary said. "We are a more coherent force, with total force integration and joint teams with no difference between our active, Guard and Reserve components when the Air Force deploys to the fight. We're also a force that has made great strides in operational effectiveness by leveraging new technologies in unmanned aerial systems and reach back capabilities through our satellite networks."

But not all change has been good for the Air Force.

"We are also a force; however, that de-emphasized the nuclear deterrence mission more than we might have intended to," Secretary Donley said. "But we're working hard to bring vigor, attention and focus to this all-important mission. The recent published national defense strategy that Defense Secretary (Robert M.) Gates released just last week reiterates our nation's commitment to maintaining our nuclear arsenal as our primary deterrent to nuclear attack. For decades, our (intercontinental ballistic missile) and nuclear bomber force have served as a part of a strategic backstop of America's deterrent posture. This is a mission that we take seriously, and it has held my utmost attention since the first day I assumed office."

The secretary said he directed the vice chief of staff of the Air Force to develop a nuclear task force to strengthen the performance in the nuclear mission as well as to determine the long-term actions necessary to rebuild the nuclear enterprise. The task force is taking a holistic approach reviewing the nuclear enterprise across the total spectrum of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, education, personnel and facilities.

"The task force will develop a draft road map for our nuclear enterprise (by) the end of September," he said. "We will then pause to assess our progress and also to incorporate the recommendations from a panel recently established by the secretary of Defense. After we've incorporated those results, Gen. (Norton A.) Schwartz (the Air Force chief of staff) and I will gather the Air Force senior leadership and finalize our way ahead for our nuclear enterprise. I'm pleased with the progress we've made thus far, and I look forward to sharing the results as we move forward to strengthen our performance in this important mission."

The secretary addressed other challenges facing today's Airmen.

"We must maintain our focus on current operations and at the same time plan for future threats," he said. "The Air Force is maintaining aging fleets while simultaneously recapitalizing and attempting to increase procurement of new aircraft and satellites. We are migrating funding - from supplement appropriations - into the regular Air Force budget. At the same time we are managing rising operational costs for personnel, medical care and fuel. We're meeting new mission requirements - intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, space and the cyber world - while at the same time we are getting ready to transition into a new administration next year. We need to look at these challenges from an enterprise perspective to achieve the appropriate balance necessary for the Air Force."

Although much has changed since Secretary Donley last served as the acting secretary in 1993, much has remained the same.

"The importance of our core values has not changed, nor has the high-quality of the Airmen attracted to military service," he said. "We remain a force of motivated and dedicated personnel. Their families are devoted to their country and express great pride in their sons and daughters and husbands and wives in uniform. We remain a force that is fully committed to winning today's joint fight, preparing for tomorrow's emerging national security challenges, and leaning forward to care for our people, our families and our wounded warriors."