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A/TA 2012: An Airman’s Perspective

  • Published
  • By Capt. Matt Upchurch
  • 458th Airlift Squadron
Residents in Anaheim, Calif, were greeted by an unexpected sight Nov. 1-4: they found themselves suddenly inundated with bus-loads of men and women in uniforms arriving from across the globe. 1,900 Airmen, government employees and defense contractors, representing the entire spectrum of the Mobility Air Force, converged in southern California for the 44th Annual Airlift Tanker Association Convention, also known as A/TA.

The annual meeting is a celebration of the rich heritage and culture of the Mobility Air Force's far-reaching accomplishments, past and present, and the dedicated Airmen who work tirelessly and selflessly to support U.S. global operations. The event was a chance for mobility Airmen of all ranks, backgrounds and experience levels to gather in an open forum and share opinions, gain insight, make lasting connections and share the camaraderie of their peers, both old and new.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the 20th Chief of Staff of the Air Force, set the stage and theme for the convention with the opening address entitled, "Mobility Airmen Answer the Call."
I'm sure most of you reading this are keenly aware of the personal sacrifices made to answer the call--you live it every day. However, if you are in any doubt, or need a reminder of "why we do what we do," go to YouTube and watch the video entitled MAF Ethos. The short sequence was shown in Anaheim and offers just a glimpse into the dedicated mentality that drives mobility forces to selflessly serve others.

Do you need more inspiration? Besides being honored with the presence of Medal of Honor recipient, retired USAF Col. Joe M. Jackson, convention attendees were privileged to witness the posthumous induction of fellow Medal of Honor recipient Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger into the A/TA Hall of Fame. You could feel the overwhelming surge of pride in the room as A1C Pitsenbarger's tale was humbly recounted by his fellow Air Force Pararescueman before an awe-struck crowd.

In addition to celebrating our heritage, the symposium and technology expo offered a chance for Airmen to gain a broader understanding of the current status of the MAF worldwide. We so often get buried in our own personal experiences and perceptions of the AF that we tend to lose sight of all the unique contributions made by our fellow Airmen and the challenges they face daily. A/TA put these struggles and accomplishments front and center. From the continued aero-medical and airdrop innovations in Afghanistan, to the enormously complicated job of refueling a diverse multi-national coalition of aircraft over Libya, when you take a moment to step back and thoroughly examine what MAF Airmen do on a daily basis, it is truly amazing!

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, James A. Roy, laid out our role plainly and simply, we do what we do because "someone, somewhere, needs something." Just days prior to the convention, it was our fellow Americans on the East Coast that needed something.
MAF aircrews delivered emergency supplies and specialized electrical equipment and crews in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. From humanitarian efforts to war fighting, A/TA attendees were reminded that rapid global mobility is the backbone of the U.S. military's way of doing business.

In the face of a continued focus on air mobility, there was an underlying motif that permeated the convention. The ever present reminder of our Air Force's growing fiscal constraints. Every seminar held some hint of this reality. In fact, due to funding issues the entire convention was much smaller than previous attendees may remember. Obtaining funding for active duty personnel to attend was a hard-fought battle; the restrictions served as a reminder that we work for the taxpayers and must be responsible stewards of their money.

So what does the future hold for the MAF? A/TA brought in program directors and industry leaders from across the Air Force to answer this question. The open discussions and expo floor displays provided an unprecedented opportunity for airmen to see first-hand the latest innovations from defense contractors. Did you know that several private companies are developing rigid, lighter-than-air cargo aircraft with the capability to quickly roll on and roll off cargo and vehicles? Neither did I, but two advanced displays were on the expo floor.

While helium-filled transports might not be the future of our Air Force, the KC-46 tanker certainly is. A flight and refueling simulator took center stage at one of the expo halls and the eagerly awaited tanker was the seminar topic in a packed auditorium where AF and Boeing project leaders fielded questions.

A dominating feature at many of the expo floor displays and several seminars was the future of mobile technology integration. Military and civilian program directors presented plans for spreading mobile technology throughout every level of the AF, across every base. Some of the seminar rooms were reminiscent of an Apple convention with eager tech junkies waiting impatiently for the next greatest release. Instead, listeners walked out with empty hands and were chastised to "be patient, we are working on it."

However, this is what A/TA is all about. Not every discussion has to be a rosy vignette filled with uplifting news. For example, one seminar detailed how MAF pilots will soon be affected by a dire shortage of Combat Air Force operators. This annual convention provides a forum for the free flow of ideas and information, offering a chance for any airman to provide direct, face-to-face feedback to those in a position of authority. The many varied viewpoints and experiences exchanged during these seminars serve not only to aid project development, but also to enrich the knowledge and understanding of our future leaders and innovators.

Every airman in the Mobility Air Force should seek to attend an A/TA convention once in their careers, and it is my sincere hope that AMC strives to make this a reality. The opportunity to exchange ideas, experiences and knowledge is unprecedented in a community that is continuously scattered across the globe supporting the mobility mission. The annual Airlift/Tanker Association Convention is a true celebration of what it means for mobility forces to "answer the call" in the past, present and future.