New California Air Guard Commander visits wing, shares vision

Brig. Gen. James C. Witham, commander of the California Air National Guard, conducts a town hall meeting with 129th Rescue Wing Airmen at Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., Feb. 4, 2012. This is Witham’s first visit to the 129th since becoming the CA ANG commander and it gave Airmen an opportunity to ask questions about the future of the Guard. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kim E. Ramirez)

Brig. Gen. James C. Witham, commander of the California Air National Guard, conducts a town hall meeting with 129th Rescue Wing Airmen at Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., Feb. 4, 2012. This is Witham’s first visit to the 129th since becoming the CA ANG commander and it gave Airmen an opportunity to ask questions about the future of the Guard. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kim E. Ramirez)

Brig. Gen. James C. Witham, commander of the California Air National Guard, conducts a town hall meeting with 129th Rescue Wing Airmen at Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., Feb. 4, 2012. This is Witham’s first visit to the 129th since becoming the CA ANG commander and it gave Airmen an opportunity to ask questions about the future of the Guard. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kim E. Ramirez)

Brig. Gen. James C. Witham, commander of the California Air National Guard, conducts a town hall meeting with 129th Rescue Wing Airmen at Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., Feb. 4, 2012. This is Witham’s first visit to the 129th since becoming the CA ANG commander and it gave Airmen an opportunity to ask questions about the future of the Guard. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kim E. Ramirez)

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- The new California Air National Guard Commander got an up close look at the 129th Rescue Wing here Feb. 4 and 5, 2012.

Brig. Gen. James C. Witham, who joined the California National Guard last fall after working as chief of staff of the New Jersey Air National Guard, visited wing facilities and held group-level town hall meetings with 129th Airmen. Col. Steven J. Butow, 129th Rescue Wing Commander, facilitated the question and answer sessions.

The purpose of Witham's visit was two fold: to orient himself with the mission and people of the 129th and to impart his vision as the California Air National Guard Commander.

He kicked off each town hall by discussing the top priorities of Major General David S. Baldwin, California National Guard Adjutant General. The first priority is defense support of civilian authorities.

"Our forces have a dual-role priority: supporting the federal mission and domestic mission," Witham said. There was more of a focus on the federal mission due to overseas deployments the last decade.

But more time will be spent on domestic operations in the future; a mission that Guardsmen are always ready to perform. The National Guard is the first military responder available to state governors.

"This is what makes us so unique as Guardsmen. We can never forget that," Witham said. "Rescue knows this best because you respond so well to domestic crisis events."

Coincidentally, during the general's visit, the 129th launched a rescue mission to pick up a gravely ill man off the coast of California.

The general noted that the 129th is also critical to joint staging, reception, and onward movement, known as JSROI, due to its location in California. If there is a Bay Area disaster, the 129th will be charged with receiving and processing other servicemembers who deploy to Moffett FAF in response to the crisis.

With regard to the adjutant general's second priority, internal controls, California National Guardsmen must ensure business is conducted in accordance with fiscal law and regulatory guidance, along with the Air Force core values.

"We can't forget our core values," Witham said. "They lay the groundwork for everything we do."

Witham then outlined his other goals as the California Air National Guard Commander: force development and reconnecting headquarters staff to the field.

"I'm going to put great emphasis on furthering force development. We need to build our depth of officers in the California Air National Guard. I'm talking about E-4s, E-6s, O-3s, and O-4s," Witham said. "When Air National Guard leadership talks about developing their bench, they're referring to their replacements. We must make sure we're developing our force for the future."

Officers at all levels should take every opportunity to focus on their development. Opportunities include taking on leadership positions, staff positions, deployments, joint credit assignments and in-residence PME.

Dovetailing from the topic of force development, the general spoke about enabling the California Air National Guard wings. To ensure that subordinate units are given the tools for success, Witham said that he would reconnect his headquarters staff with the field.

"I plan on spending 50 percent of my time out in the field. The whole California Air National Guard staff will be involved," Witham said. "We need awareness of what you do, day in and day out, so we know where we can assist."

Hitting on the top news of the week, the budgetary future of the military, Air Force and Air National Guard, Witham discussed the recent news of personnel cuts. Approximately 5,100 positions are expected to be eliminated from the Air National Guard, and consequently it's bound to have some effect on the California Air National Guard.

"You must understand the lenses that are used to make decisions about the cuts," Witham said. Retention, recruiting, and inspection results are all evaluated in the decision making process.

"We must do everything we can to get through inspections cleanly," Witham said. "We all play a part."

Witham wrapped up his talk by emphasizing the Air National Guard's value to the country. He cited General Craig R. McKinley's 2010 white paper, "The National Guard: A Great Value for America."

The general's key point was that every Airman's effort to vocalize the Guard's relevance and value is integral to the future of the force.

"We are able to provide operational depth to the active components for a fraction of the cost," Witham said. "All of us must disseminate this message within our local communities."