At Air Force bases around the country and across the world, our civilian employees are performing critical functions, from repairing aging aircraft to managing acquisition programs to developing the next great technology.
Our civilians are fundamental to our strength. In places like Sumter, South Carolina; Dayton, Ohio; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, our approximately 180,000 civilian airmen contribute mightily to keeping our warfighters trained, equipped and ready for the next big challenge. Without the engineers, doctors, nurses, aircraft mechanics, firefighters, child care center personnel and many other professionals who make up our civilian ranks, we could not prosecute the fight against ISIS or maintain the continuous global engagement that has characterized the Air Force since Operation Desert Storm.
More than 92 percent of our civilians work at bases far from headquarters in Washington, D.C. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio — home to the Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Materiel Command — they constitute the largest concentration of employees at one worksite in Ohio. In many other states, our civilians rank among the largest single groups of workers.
Many of our civilians are concerned about the current hiring freeze and future budget uncertainties. As acting secretary of the Air Force, I work these issues daily and with priority. Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein and I greatly value our civilian force and the work they do.
Here are a few stories about contributions from our civilians:
- Air Force civilians developed "adaptive optics" for changing the shapes of mirrors, useful for pointing lasers. That technology helped revolutionize astronomy by correcting atmospheric disturbances. Among the key contributors was Air Force scientist Bob Fugate.
- Dr. Siva Banda is the Air Force Research Lab’s aerospace systems chief scientist, and one of the world's foremost experts on advanced controls, technologies critical to guiding aircraft in flight. He's a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and has influenced an entire generation of controls engineers.
- Last month, Gregory Gangnuss was awarded the Air Force Civilian Award for Valor. Gregory is a civil engineer who deployed to Afghanistan in 2015. While there, he heard a crash near Kabul and risked his own safety to crawl inside a downed British Puma MK2 helicopter to help extract survivors and those killed in the crash. Soaked in fuel, Gagnuss remained inside the helicopter for two hours to assist and help extract four survivors.
We currently have approximately 120 Air Force civilians deployed in a variety of locations, contributing to operations with their active-duty, Reserve and National Guard counterparts. In addition to filling deployed positions, our civilians are critical members of our home station teams. They serve as the institutional memory for a force that is, by necessity, frequently deploying or changing permanent duty stations. Their corporate knowledge and expertise cannot be easily replaced or outsourced. Our civilians are a cornerstone of global reach, vigilance and power.
To all of you, thank you for your many contributions and your dedication to our nation’s defense.
Lisa Disbrow is the acting secretary of the Air Force.