by Tech. Sgt. Mike Edwards
447th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
6/25/2010 - SATHER AIR BASE, BAGHDAD (AFNS) -- The Air Force's top uniformed officer made a visit June 24 to meet with Airmen, talk about his priorities, and listen to the concerns of those living and working here.
"Let me begin by reminding you that everyone matters," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. "It's like a team; everyone plays a position. If you have someone on the team who doesn't do their part, the team cannot win. Everybody counts. Everybody matters."
In addition to stressing that every active-duty, guard, Reserve, and civilian Airman has an integral role in accomplishing the mission, the Air Force's top general highlighted the need for discipline and compliance with Air Force standards.
"We had a major issue a little while back regarding accountability for nuclear weapons," he said. "Fundamentally, we had lost focus, but we have taken steps to correct that."
He explained the need to maintain high levels of vigilance and dedication.
"Compliance is not a four-letter word," he said. "It helps keep us safe and maintain our standards of excellence."
The general acknowledged that the Air Force is currently challenged with too many people in its ranks.
"We are having a problem because retention is the best it has ever been in years," he said. "As a result, we have had to implement some force-shaping measures to get our numbers back down to our allotted end-strength."
He noted that payroll is the first bill paid out of the budget.
"If we have more people to pay than we have in the budget, the money has to come from other programs such as childcare, housing and medical," he said.
"Losing personnel is always tough, but we are opening up cross-training opportunities for those willing to change jobs," he said.
He also mentioned opportunities to continue to serve in the Air Reserve components or in the civilian workforce.
Before taking questions, the last point the General Schwartz stressed was preventing suicides.
"We are experiencing the highest rate of suicides we've seen in years," he said. "It's not just with Air Force members in uniform; it is also affecting our civilian population.
"If you need help, I encourage you to seek help immediately," he said. "There is no stigma for seeking help."
He said suicide affects not only the individual, but also the immediate and the larger Air Force family.
"If you see someone who needs help, assist them in getting that help," General Schwartz said. "That's what being a wingman is about. That's what family is all about. We take care of each other."
When the general opened the floor for questions, one Airman expressed concern that Iraq might become the "forgotten" war as the transition is made from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.
"What we are seeing and experiencing right now is a result of our successes and the sacrifices we have made," General Schwartz said. "I know that the American people support you and have not forgotten what you are doing here. Just because the media attention is focused on Afghanistan right now, does not mean anyone has forgotten what you are doing here or the sacrifices we have made."
Another question from the audience asked about what initiatives have been addressed for families during the "Year of the Air Force Family."
"I talked earlier about how we are all a team and that everyone on that team has to do their part for us to be successful," General Schwartz said. "Families are a very important member of our team. We have undertaken some very important steps to help take care of our families."
Improving the availability of childcare and improving services for special needs families were two of the initiatives he mentioned, and he also addressed housing.
"Over the past several years, we have been working with our privatized housing initiative to either build or refurbish more than 50,000 homes," he said. "We want our bases to be an attractive place to live. We are working to make them communities in which people feel safe and secure, and one in which people are happy with the network of services we have to offer them."
The general noted that schools have a huge role in creating those communities.
"The quality of schools is a significant factor for those volunteering for certain assignments or choosing whether or not to live on or off base," he said. "We are working to improve that."
General Schwartz concluded the meeting by thanking everyone for what they are doing, and for their commitment.
"What you do is important," he said, "and what you do matters to the overall success of the team. Never forget that."