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Air Force secretary: Armed services more integrated, more high-tech
U.S. Secretary of the Air Force James Roche spoke to U.Va. ROTC students Sept. 5 in Maury Hall.
Photo by Stephanie Gross
U.S. Secretary of the Air Force James Roche spoke to U.Va. ROTC students Sept. 5 in Maury Hall.

By Fariss Samarrai

James G. Roche, secretary of the U.S. Air Force, visited the University Sept. 5, speaking to members of U.Va.’s Air Force ROTC program, and as the first guest speaker in the Fall 2003 Jefferson Society Speaker Series.

Roche helicoptered in from Washington late in the afternoon and went directly to Maury Hall’s auditorium, where Air Force ROTC students sat quietly in class-A blue uniforms. When a student announced in command voice that Roche was entering the room, the cadets shot to attention.

After the cadets were put “at ease” and able to sit again, Roche commended and congratulated them for their commitment as students and ROTC cadets, particularly in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. He then administered the enlistment oath to six ROTC cadets who were committing to service in the U.S. Air Force.

“This is a rare opportunity, to take the oath directly from the Secretary of the Air Force,” U.Va. ROTC commander John Vrba said later. “We’re very proud of our students. They are attending the No. 1 public university in the U.S., and they are committed to service in the Air Force. They are the cream of the cream.”

After the enlistment ceremony, Roche spoke for about an hour on the Air Force’s new efforts at force integration with the other services, particularly its sister force, the Army. He said the Air Force and Army are working more closely together than at any time since World War II, and that coordination and cooperation have worked extremely well in Iraq. He said the two services held joint exercises in the Nevada desert before the war, erasing the rivalries that have sometimes hampered operations.

The Air Force’s role, Roche said, “is to provide what’s needed to make the ground forces dramatically better.”

Roche said the services, particularly the Air Force, are recruiting high-quality personnel — enlisted and officer — and sending more of them to college and graduate school. The service is highly technological, he said, and will increasingly need highly intelligent and well-educated people. “Our people are spectacular,” he said, noting that the Air Force is now one-third female.

“You all have an exciting future ahead of you,” he said.

One student asked Roche if the Air Force planned to become more reliant on Predator aircraft, the unmanned drones that are being used routinely in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roche said the Air Force will continue to need the judgment of pilots in the air, but drones provide the stamina for 24-hour surveillance in remote and dangerous areas.

“These are complementary systems, not substitutes for manned aircraft,” he said.
Roche is responsible for the Air Force’s 370,000 men and women on active duty, and 180,000 reservists and Air National Guard members and 160,000 civilians and their families. The service’s annual budget is $90 billion.

Roche served 23 years in the Navy, retiring as a captain, and has held several executive positions with Northrop Grumman Corp. He holds a Ph.D. in business administration from Harvard.

Later in the evening, he spoke to the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society about developing military strategy in a democracy. For information about the society
and its series of speakers this fall, visit: speakers/speakers_fa03.html


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