JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md., Jan. 12, 2017 —
Defense Secretary Ash Carter joined the men and women of the Air Force as they bid farewell to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James here yesterday.
James, the 23rd Air Force secretary, led the service for more than three years.
“Because of your leadership, the United States Air Force is better prepared to fly, fight and win than at any time in history,” Carter said. “Thank you, Debbie James, for your service to this country, for your commitment to our airmen, to their families, and to the joint force. We’re safer today because of you.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein spoke about the impact James made on the service.
“You’ve inspired us, you took care of us, and you led us well,” Goldfein said. “It is now my distinct honor as the 21st chief of staff, on behalf of a grateful nation, and your 660,000 active, guard and reserve airmen, to report that you have completed your obligation to support and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That you bore true faith and allegiance to the same, and that you well and faithfully discharged your duties of the Office of Secretary of the Air Force.”
During the ceremony, Carter presented James with the Distinguished Public Service Award, and Goldfein presented her husband, Frank Beatty, with an Air Force award for exceptional public service.
“How Much We Ask”
“When I took this job … I knew it would be the honor of my professional lifetime,” James said. “I did not fully understand, at the time, what an absolute joy it would be and how much I would learn from all of you.”
In her remarks, she shared the stories of several airmen who she said touched her heart.
Two weeks after she was confirmed, James said, she received a call informing her that a convoy near Kabul, Afghanistan, had been hit by an improvised explosive device. Ten people were killed. Among them was Air Force Capt. David Lyon, a logistics specialist, executive officer for his group commander, athlete and volunteer coach for the Air Force Academy track team, she said.
The Air Force secretary attended his dignified transfer, where she met his widow, Air Force Capt. Dana Lyon, who was also stationed in Afghanistan. The couple had spent Christmas together two days before his death.
“In the midst of unspeakable grief, Dana taught me about how much we ask of people,” James explained.
Today, she is Maj. Dana Lyon, assistant strength and conditioning coach at the Air Force Academy -- an active mentor in her own right, the Air Force secretary declared.
Days after the convoy attack, an inquiry discovered illegal drug use and cheating on proficiency exams amongst missileers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. James and Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh, then Air Force chief of staff, investigated the situation.
They were joined by Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, the 20th Air Force commander. James shared that Weinstein explained the dynamics of the nuclear enterprise, including how Air Force leaders spoke of the nuclear deterrence program as a No. 1 priority, “but no one put their money where their mouth was,” she said.
“He is still the fiercest advocate for our missileers, security forces, and all the other Airmen who represent our nuclear enterprise,” she proclaimed.
Brave, Dedicated Airman
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian Williams is, “one of the bravest, most dedicated people I have ever met,” James said.
The secretary met Williams when he was competing as a member of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. A 16-year veteran, he served in security forces where he deployed six times, including to Afghanistan. He was injured in an IED explosion and lost his left leg above the knee.
It was a difficult recovery, James said. The Air Force wanted to medically retire Williams, but he refused, wanting to continue serving. At the time, the service was starting to allow more exemptions for wounded warriors.
“I was the one who signed the paperwork that allowed him to stay in the Air Force,” she said proudly. “It is an honor to serve with airmen like Tech. Sgt. Brian Williams.”
The secretary then highlighted retired Air Force Col. Charles McGee and the Tuskegee Airmen who “grew up in a time when “separate but equal” was the law of the land.”
The Tuskegee Airmen proved to be exceptional flyers, maintainers, radio operators and support personnel, she said, and demonstrated that the Air Force core value of “Excellence in All We Do,” has nothing to do with the color of an airman’s skin.
Finally, James said that as an American, she will be secure in the knowledge that the Air Force is protecting her family, friends and country 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“I will never ever cease being a member of the Air Force family,” she said. “I will always remain an advocate for airmen and the Air Force.”