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Wing mission helps U.S. achieve "Balanced Strategy"

TUCSON, Ariz. -- With the change of command ceremony scheduled for the March Unit Training Assembly it becomes my honor to address you as your wing commander. I am humbled by the opportunity to lead some of the best Airmen in the Air National Guard today, and it's my pledge to represent you, tout your accomplishments, and communicate to you - in this and other forums - the strategies and policies designed to lead us into a new era of change in the Guard. 

Looking back a decade to 1999, Brig. Gen. Ron Shoopman in his first El Tigre commentary as commander pointed out that the only constant was change and that the challenges of that year... aging aircraft, privatization, budget cuts, and demands to increase efficiency... could be met by the collective thoughts, talents and efforts of every wing member. 

Each year since, you proved him right and you've meet those challenges. 

I mention this now because of the current climate of change and the nature of present challenges that face not only the military, but the nation as a whole. The challenges that we faced in 1999 have evolved and will be met by new leaders at all levels. What has evolved in our favor is the level of importance assigned to International Pilot Training. 

As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates becomes the first defense secretary to bridge two administrations of opposite political parties, his vision for the future of the military continues to emphasize the development of partner nation air forces. 

"The United States is the strongest and greatest nation on Earth, but there are still limits on what it can do," Gates wrote in the January/February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. 

His article titled, "A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age," specifically calls upon the United States to build the capacity of partner governments and their security forces; which is coincidentally our full-time mission here; where we train foreign pilots to fly the F-16. 

"In this kind of effort," wrote the secretary, "the capabilities of the United States' allies and partners may be as important as its own, and building their capacity is arguably as important as, if not more so than, the fighting the United States does itself." 

Secretary Gates wrote that U.S. strategy is to use this indirect approach whenever possible to prevent skirmishes around the globe from escalating into costly intervention from the United States. He further writes that the United States cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets... to do everything and buy everything. 

As a key proponent to this approach, our wing has effectively accomplished an international F-16 pilot training mission since 1989; training financed by foreign governments. 

The wing has trained more than 750 pilots from 23 of the 24 nations that fly the F-16. We've had quite a role in developing our friends' capabilities. 

We can feel proud that our wing has been leaning forward on this component of Secretary Gate's strategy. It is my hope that every wing member gain an understanding of how their work fits into and contributes to the "big picture." 

I also encourage everyone to talk about this, or any of our vital missions - federal, state or homeland defense - with family, friends and neighbors, because it will be as a community that we meet the challenges of a new decade.