The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

April 22, 2013

Vance commander: Fiscal responsibility important

ENID, Okla. — Vance Air Force Base is responding to federal budget cuts, but the impact for training bases may not be as much as what other bases face.

Col. Darren James, 71st Flying Training Wing commander at Vance, told Enid Rotary Club members Monday the federal fiscal environment probably will never be the same. He said each airman at Vance is expected to be fiscally responsible.

That is part of the Vance vision of developing professional airmen, he said.

“We have to be more effective with our dollars than we have,” James said.

James’ vision for Vance is for the 71st FTW to be the Air Force’s premier training wing.

Vance recently completed its biennial Consolidated Unit Inspection and received a satisfactory rating, the middle rating in the five-point grading system that includes marks of outstanding, excellent, satisfactory, marginal and unsatisfactory.

No category showed weakness, James said. Some areas were judged excellent and outstanding at the base. Some areas that are specific to how people are treated at Vance were considered excellent, James said, and some programs were outstanding for the first time. Five individuals were named outstanding and 51 were recognized for being “Professional Performers.”

One goal James has is all airmen at the base to feel empowered. That has different dynamics, he said, from new 18-year-old airmen to older seasoned veterans. James wants every airman to be open to express ideas that may bring about solutions.

“I want the youngest person on the base to know they are empowered,” James said. “Every airman must know if they have an idea, to send it up the channel, because it may provide the answer they are looking for.”

The Vance goal is to develop, deliver and deploy warfighters. James wants to develop professional airmen and deliver world-class pilots. The base deploys about 35 airmen per month, and he estimated 97 deployments during a year.

“I don’t see that changing any,” he said.

Deployments could decrease if the United States completely withdraws from Afghanistan and there is no other need for forces there. He said Vance is at maximum capacity of training pilots and the need for pilots is not declining.

Under the federal budget cuts, called sequestration, the Air Force has not received a directive establishing specific cuts, so officials must deal with whatever cuts are made, he said.

“That means they come in and take a slice,” James said.

Vance has cut unnecessary travel and training, and the Air Force established a civilian hiring freeze. The base also has cut flying that is not mission related. The cuts imposed create some uncertainty among the civilian work force, he said. James said furloughs of civilian workers will result in about a 20 percent reduction in income. Air Force cuts will cost Vance about $400 million, he said.

About one-third of the combat Air Force will stop flying, James said, and those flying hours will be redistributed across the Air Force. As a training base, there will be no impact on Vance flying hours, he said.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said as of April 1, the fiscal year was half over and 80 percent of the budget had been spent, James said. There will be an 18 percent reduction in replacement parts for aircraft, which could affect Vance, he said.

Touching on other topics, James:

• Told Rotarians the U.S. Air Force is significantly better than that of any other country. The No. 2 country is far behind the United States, he said, and probably is either Germany or the Dutch.

In addition to training Air Force pilots, Vance also trains foreign students from nine nations. Those students must go through language training until they can be safely taught.

• Talked recently with Mike Cooper, Enid’s military liaison, who said Vance is posturing well for any future base-closure rounds. Vance’s strong points are real estate, air space, runways and hangar space.

James credited much of the success of the base to the community of Enid and the efforts of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas.

“Thanks to all of you. I liken a community to Air Force service. You impact everyone on my base. Enid is the best support I’ve had in 22 plus years,” James said.

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