In an Air Force Farewell Ceremony today at Joint Base Andrews, outgoing Secretary Deborah Lee James said it was an honor to serve as the service’s secretary the past three years.
The 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, and only the second woman to serve in the post since Sheila Windall (1993-1997), James was appointed to the post by President Barrack Obama on Dec. 13, 2013 and took full control Dec. 20, 2013.
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Ash was in attendance and reflected back on James’ dedication to the country and to the Air Force. He also thanked James’ family and said Secretary James’ commitment to airmen was always her top priority.
“Deborah worked tirelessly to find the balance between today’s Air Force and building and Air Force for tomorrow. She believes in maintaining air and space superiority and is a champion for an unchallenged nuclear deterrent.”
Carter continued to outline her accomplishments and in closing said, “My admiration goes back many years. We’re safer today because of you. Thank you so much pal.”
Following Carter’s remarks, both Carter and James walked to the hangar floor where James was awarded the Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. Back at the platform, Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David L. Goldfein, welcomed the many friends, family and distinguished guests.
“Secretary James has served 3 years and 23 days as our secretary and on January 20, her 30-year commitment to government service comes to an end,” Goldfein said. He continued to say that she pushed the Air Force to think in new ways, and that the once young, aspiring foreign service officer was a champion for diversity and inclusion.
“We are a better Air Force because of her passion, her commitment and her leadership,” he said.
Goldfein went on to mention comments that were sent to him regarding James and her service. The crowd heard stories of James’ dedication to airmen and their families, stories of how she trusted an Air Force jumpmaster during a tandem jump and heard words of praise from a Gold Star wife of how Secretary James “showed up” in every way.
Goldfein closed his remarks by asking her to, “Look at that Flag; look at the airmen you’ve lead. It is my honor today to report that you have honorably completed your obligation.”
After James’ husband Frank Beatty was recognized for his support, James took to the platform to offer her remarks. She said instead of reflecting on accomplishments, she wanted to offer anecdotal stories … stories that impacted her as secretary, and stories that impacted her personally.
She offered her thanks to Secretary Carter and General Goldfein and said to guests in the room, “It was an honor of a lifetime to serve with all of you. I made taking care of airmen my top priority, but airmen have taken care of me in so many ways.”
She told the crowd her plans to remain an active advocate for the Air Force and its airmen, and she told the airmen in attendance that she views their service as a faithful “legacy of commitment and valor.”
In her closing remarks, holding back tears, she coined a familiar phrase, “Aim High … Aim High … I know you will, and I will be watching.”
She could not contain her tears for her final send off though. The Air Force Band’s Max Impact rock band brought tears to her eyes with their rendition of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.”
Her tears quickly faded with the band’s next song, “Uptown Funk.”
“We know this one is your favorite,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ryan L. Carson, the Superintendent and a vocalist with Max Impact.
In her position as Secretary, she was responsible for organizing, training, equipping and providing for the welfare of the Air Force’s more than 690,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian airmen and their families, as well as disbursing the Air Force’s annual budget.
At the beginning of her tenure she dealt with the issues stemming from the Air Force budget sequestration in 2013, continued troubles with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, Congressional investigation of the Air Force for its handling of sexual assaults, and a drug and cheating scandal inside the Air Force Global Strike Command.
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