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Secretary of the Air Force visits 167th Airlift Wing

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James shakes hands with Col. Shaun J. Perkowski, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va. James visited the 167th to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 Globemaster and the West Virginia Air National Guard.  Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the Total Force. James also met with wing Airmen to address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer /Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James shakes hands with Col. Shaun J. Perkowski, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va. James visited the 167th to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 Globemaster and the West Virginia Air National Guard. Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the Total Force. James also met with wing Airmen to address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer /Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James listens to a question from an airman during her visit to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, Oct. 5. James visited the wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard.  Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James listens to a question from an airman during her visit to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, Oct. 5. James visited the wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard. Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James listens to a question from an airman during her visit to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, Oct. 5. James visited the wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 Globemaster and the West Virginia Air National Guard.  Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James listens to a question from an airman during her visit to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, Oct. 5. James visited the wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 Globemaster and the West Virginia Air National Guard. Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Senior Airman Geoffrey Blankenship asks a question to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James during her visit to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct 5. James visited the wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 Globemaster and the West Virginia Air National Guard.  Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Senior Airman Geoffrey Blankenship asks a question to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James during her visit to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct 5. James visited the wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 Globemaster and the West Virginia Air National Guard. Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James addresses members of the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct. 5. James visited the 167th Airlift Wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard.  Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/ Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James addresses members of the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct. 5. James visited the 167th Airlift Wing to learn about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard. Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the total Air Force. James also met with wing Airmen to talk answer address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/ Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, applaud Senior Master Sgt. Todd Kirkwood, 167th Outstanding Honor Guard Airman of the Year 2015, for celebrating his 30th anniversary of serving in the military. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer /Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, applaud Senior Master Sgt. Todd Kirkwood, 167th Outstanding Honor Guard Airman of the Year 2015, for celebrating his 30th anniversary of serving in the military. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer /Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James met with Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, to address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. James also learned about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard.  Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the Total Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer/released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James met with Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va, to address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard. James also learned about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard. Launching the first C-17 mission less than three months after the first aircraft arrival, unit members discussed new opportunities and capabilities for the Total Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer/released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Col. Shaun J. Perkowski, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va. talks to the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James  about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard.   James also met with wing Airmen to address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard.(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Col. Shaun J. Perkowski, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va. talks to the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James about their recent mission conversion to the C-17 GlobemasterIII and the West Virginia Air National Guard. James also met with wing Airmen to address questions about the future of the Air Force and Air National Guard.(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer/Released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct. 5, to meet with members of the West Virginia Air National Guard and learn about their mission and role within the Total Force. The West Virginia Air National Guard is comprised of two units, the 167th which operates the C-17 Globemaster III and the 130th Airlift Wing, in Charleston, W.Va., which operates the C-130 Hercules.

James was originally scheduled to visit both the wing locations but changed her itinerary to attend a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Del., of six Airmen from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing and five contractors who died in the Oct. 2 C-130J Super Hercules crash at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan. She began the scheduled all call with 167th Airmen apologizing for her last minute itinerary change and said she began her visit with a very heavy heart. 

"It is both a high honor and privilege to be a part of this, but it's also filled with grief," she said, adding, "so this is the kind of day it has been for me."

James addressed the challenges the Air Force currently faces to include budget restraints and operating the smallest force since the inception in 1947, but stressed the importance of the Air National Guard in the Total Force and maintaining readiness.

Despite an aging fleet and strained force, she said, the mobility mission is always front and center around the world. "We can't get anything done unless we can get the people, cargo and supplies where they need to go, and that's what all of you are engaged in."

After addressing her priorities and challenges for the Air Force, she answered questions from Airmen, directly addressing their concerns. Staff Sgt. Geoff Blankenship, a chaplain assistant with the 167th, asked a question regarding suicide and mental health services in the Air Force and said it was clear to him the secretary cares about the subject and safety of our members.

"It was an honor to have her speak to us in the smaller environment. It made the interaction feel much more on a personal level as if she truly wanted to hear from us," he said.

James concluded her visit by meeting the two wings' top performers, thanking them for their service while asking about their background and military experiences. She left the Airmen of the 167th a challenge, to help tell the Air Force story.

"People don't fully understand how important the Air Force is to every mission around the world, so we've got to be good story-tellers."