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AFSOC chief discusses hot topics with 353rd SOG

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, speaks with members of the 353rd Special Operations Group Senior NCO Corps during a breakfast at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Marilyn C. Holliday)

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, speaks with members of the 353rd Special Operations Group Senior NCO Corps during a breakfast at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Marilyn C. Holliday)

Tech. Sgt. Matt Andrusky, 353rd Operations Support Squadron, puts Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, through the rigors of parachute simulation training on a virtual reality emergency parachute trainer at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2007.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Marilyn C. Holliday)

Tech. Sgt. Matt Andrusky, 353rd Operations Support Squadron, puts Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, through the rigors of parachute simulation training on a virtual reality emergency parachute trainer at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Marilyn C. Holliday)

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, is given final safety instructions from a 320th Special Tactics Squadron member during the chief's training on an advanced rescue craft in Okinawan waters.  The chief visited all of the squadrons of the 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2007.  The advanced rescue crafts are used by the 320th STS. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Marilyn C. Holliday)

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, is given final safety instructions from a 320th Special Tactics Squadron member during the chief's training on an advanced rescue craft in Okinawan waters. The chief visited all of the squadrons of the 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2007. The advanced rescue crafts are used by the 320th STS. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Marilyn C. Holliday)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- In his second opportunity this year for an up close look at the Pacific Air Commandos, the command chief master sergeant for the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Air Force Base, Fla., discussed hot topics with members of the 353rd Special Operations Group here.

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Gilbert toured all five of the group's squadrons, learning more about the group's role in the Pacific, while answering questions about the future of AFSOC and the Air Force.

"There's no doubt we are in a growth industry, Special Operations Forces in general, and certainly in the air component of Special Operations Command," he said. "On Oct. 1, we doubled our number of active-duty wings in AFSOC, with the standup of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon AFB, N.M. We anticipate growth both in personnel and in aircraft and I expect that growth will continue for some time given what we bring to the table."

He also voiced his views on the Air Force's current force shaping and the recapitalization of its aircraft.

"We have a responsibility to recognize that much of our Air Force is going through a painful downsizing to fund recapitalization," he said. "It would be criminal for us to take for granted the resources we are allotted to get the job done today. We have to make the most of all we have.

"We also have just as much interest in recapitalization as any one else. In the long term, our ability to do what we are charged to do by our national leadership is entirely dependent upon us recapitalizing our fleet," he said. "Guts and determination are important, but will only get you so far. Our future success will be largely determined by leveraging improved technological capabilities and fielding fresh, more capable aircraft."
The chief also praised the work of the 750 members of the 353rd SOG.

"The 353rd is doing critical work with our coalition partners in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and other countries in the Pacific," he said. "All of these relationships are crucial to peace and stability in the Pacific rim. The work that the Group is doing is vitally important even it if it doesn't often make the headlines, in fact, that is probably the best proof of your success. Every member of the organization should be proud of their contribution."

In addition to the group's relationship with countries in the Pacific, the 353rd SOG also works closely with its host organization, 18th Wing.

"We are tenants in almost all of our locations," the chief said. "In large part we are successful in completing our missions based on the relationships we're able to establish, whether it be with our coalition partners, other military services, or members of the post or base that we're operating from. At the 353rd, we're fortunate to reap the benefits of a great relationship between us and the 18th Wing Commander Brig. Gen Brett Williams and his wife, Marianne, and the 18th Wing Command Chief Jack Johnson. They deeply respect the contributions of all members of the Kadena team. We couldn't have better hosts."

He also commented on the professionalism of Airmen, saying that Airmen in general approach problems differently than other people.

"Of course, I'm particularly proud of AFSOC Airmen, in that when presented with a problem or challenge, the noise from the crowd will be several courses of action for getting the job done," he said. "You are not going to hear reasons why you can't do it. The challenge for us as leaders, is to hear and figure out which course of action will best get us there."

He also explained that the senior enlisted force has an incredible responsibility when supervising and mentoring.

"Be worthy of leading the young Airmen that we are giving you," the chief said. "This is a serious business, sometimes life and death, and we have to hold people to high standards. But, if all we're doing is holding Airmen to high standards we're only doing half the job. It's when we're inspiring Airmen to exceed high standards through our own hard work and integrity that we've got it right. There's a big difference."

He also stressed that years into today's war, there are significant differences in Air Force training and readiness.

"There's no doubt we have the most combat-experienced, combat-ready Air Force that we've ever had," he said. "We've got incredibly talented NCOs and young officers running our key training programs. Airmen coming through the pipeline today are not just learning theory, they're learning from warriors who were just out in the fight, looking the enemy in the eye."

When asked what words of wisdom he would pass on to new Air Force recruits, the chief sung high praises.

"Thanks for joining our Air Force at a time of war," he said. "You knew what you were getting into. You're here to serve and we're going to give you that opportunity. Be ready."

The 353rd Special Operations Group is the focal point for all U.S. Air Force special operations activities throughout the U.S. Pacific Command theater. The group is prepared to conduct a variety of high-priority, low-visibility missions.

It maintains a worldwide mobility commitment, participates in Pacific theater exercises as directed and supports humanitarian and relief operations. In peacetime, the group ensures the combat readiness of its squadrons through involvement in numerous theater and Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed military exercises and training activities throughout the Pacific.